20 Years After: The Politician

Mark Ridley-Thomas was changed forever by the riots

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Photograph by Kwaku Alston

Florence and Normandie sat in my district, the 8th. Once the verdicts came in, I went to First A.M.E. Church to speak truthfully and calmly about the position in which we found ourselves. Yet by the evening of April 29, all that thinking went out the window. That first night in the church we learned that the gas station across the street was aflame. This was frightening. I was awake for approximately 36 hours, and it was all a blur. I had to get home to make sure our four-year-old twin boys were safe, and then I found my way to my district office, at Manchester and Vermont. The intersection would be the second hardest hit of all locations over the weekend. We had a brand-new constituent services center there, the first achievement I had as a new city council member. That business core—all 22 structures—was completely destroyed. It seemed clear to me that Los Angeles was broken. Yet we turned more around, more quickly, than might have been imagined. The unrest set in motion the Christopher Commission and oversight of the LAPD. And if you compare 1992 to 1965—to Watts—the response in ’92 was far more economic-development oriented. We built back businesses; we cleaned up the environment.

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