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Sa-I-Gu (April 29)

May 19, 2012

Do you know what happened on April 29, 1992?

It was a tragic day in American history. Violence, arson and looting erupted in Los Angeles, sparked by the acquittal of the four policemen who had beaten an African American, Rodney King, on March 3, 1991.

This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the infamous riots. I made two films about the 1992 riots, one Sa-I-Gu (literally April 29), which I started production three months after the riots and another, ten years later, to explore the aftermaths of the riots, Wet Sand: Voices from L.A.

With those two films, coupled with my deep concerns about racism and related issues in America, I had opportunities to look back and discuss the current and the future of racism in America and other pressing issues at a number of screenings and panel discussions.

I wish I could report back hopeful news.  Our collective memories and observations and views of the current and the future of racism in America were dark and pessimistic.

I feel compelled to share my memories of the 1992 upheaval and to discuss the lessons we learned and actions we should take. So I propose to write a few essays about Sa-I-Gu (April 29), starting from what happened in 1992.

The famous King beating on March 3, 1991, videotaped by an innocent witness, George Holiday, caught the attention of the national and international media. In the ensuing thirteen months, the NBC, CBS and ABC networks did 87 stories about the brutal beating and arrest on the evening news alone.

It was not surprising, then, that the Rodney King verdict stirred many Los Angelians, especially African Americans, with volcanic rage. The rage was bound to erupt and  the most visible people close to angry Blacks in South Central were Korean merchants, some of whom had been accused of discriminating against Black customers. Once the Korean businesses were hit by Blacks, Latinos and the poor joined in the looting and turmoil of the riots. During the tragic days of the riots, Korean Americans suffered more than half of the total property damage, estimated at roughly one billion dollars. Fifty four lives were lost in the chaos of the riots.

The media portrayed the Black/Korean conflict as a cause, if not the cause, of the upheaval. True enough, there were Black/Korean conflicts. But were they the cause of the riots? By no means!

The conflicts were symptoms of larger problems of American society, long in the making, not the cause of the largest urban upheaval in America!

The media who didn’t seem to know the difference between the symptoms and causes  continued to report how much was lost, how many died and how many were arrested, turning human tragedies into statistics and issues and pitting Koreans against African Americans.

If I was sad with the tragic event, I was mad, actually furious, with the media.

To be continued more about the 1992 riots and aftermath, including what caused it and what I believe we should do to correct the wrongs now.


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