Photojournalist Gives First-Hand Account of Photographing the ‘92 LA Riots
The riots carry a particular resonance with me. My family moved to Los Angeles in about 1933. As a very small child I rode along with my parents to try and get my grandparents on moms side out of the way of a big riot. It was 1965 and the Watts Riot/Rebellion was underway. Grandma lived at about 3rd ave and Slauson. Across the street from a school that became a staging area.
When the Rodney King riots hit, the (former) location of my employers precious metal refinery was right in the middle of the mess. As a suggestion from the LAFD we had to move our compressed gas tanks out of the factory and out into the open. So a couple of us got down there to Jefferson Bl. and moved the tanks out and scurried home.
The whole scenario was previously unthinkable-The police pulling back from the neighborhoods and protecting county and city building instead. The failure of the state National Guard to deploy rapidly. The arrival of the Marines instead. Then the Guard.
Back in 1992, photojournalist Hyungwon Kang was the only Korean-speaking photographer employed with the LA Times. So when the riots broke out after the infamous Rodney King verdict, he was sent to cover things in Koreatown.
In this short Reuters TV interview, he tells us what it was like to go in with only a camera, photographing looters and firefights and trying to stay safe in the meantime.
And staying safe was no small task. As soon as the riots broke out, he rushed to begin documenting them for the newspaper, but he had only just started taking photos when a few guys chased him back to his car with bats.
The next day, he found a convenience store in Koreatown that had somehow been saved from the looting, and spent time photographing police and armed civilians who were doing their best to keep it that way.