Dania Maxwell / for NBC News
But tensions still exist.
The wave of anger over police shootings that swept the country three years ago included Los Angeles, where police have faced protests for shooting mentally ill men to death. Blacks represent 9% of the city’s population but make up 19% of victims of police shootings and 31% of other use-of-force cases, according to the Los Angeles Times. A 2009 Harvard University study showed that while most Angelenos approved of the LAPD’s job, the department used force against African-Americans disproportionately, and blacks and Latinos were more likely to see continued discrimination.
In 2016, LAPD officers killed 19 people, more than any other law enforcement agency in the country. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies killed 16 people, the second-highest tally.
Murray praised the reforms in the police department and its most recent police chiefs for forging inroads into the black community, creating pathways to communication rather than “just being there with your club and your gun and your blue suit.”
‘We’re Still Here’
Soon after peace was restored, the city tried to jump start rebuilding South Central through an array of public-private development projects. All fell short of their promises, according to analysts. South Los Angeles remained pocked with vacant lots, and only during the early 2000s real estate boom did strip malls begin to partially fill the voids.
“The failure to keep the big promises made by public officials and corporations to pour billions of investment dollars into South L.A., housing and businesses has largely been just that, an unfulfilled promise,” said Hutchinson, with the urban policy roundtable.
Around the tenth anniversary of the riots, a pair of economists examined the impact and found that it had sapped the city of nearly $4 billion — a far steeper cost than what it incurred from the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake in 1994.
“When it’s us against Mother Nature, we’re willing to come together and say we’re not going to let her beat us. But when it’s us against each other, we’re not as quick to bounce back,” said Victor Matheson, one of the study’s authors.
In 2003, the city council changed South Central’s name to South Los Angeles, an attempt to bury the neighborhood’s stigma. But by then it hardly resembled its 1992 self. The transformation was plainly visible from the street, where blocks that once teemed with black culture now cater to Latino tastes. Billboards that once boasted of black beauty shops and soul food are written in Spanish. Even the liquor store where Latasha Harlins was killed has a new face. Now called the Numero Uno Market, it caters to a new demographic. On a recent afternoon nearly every patron in the store and in the parking lot was Latino.
Jooyoung Lee, a Korean American ethnographer, spent five years researching the hip-hop scene around Leimert Park and found two important developments: a determined celebration of black culture and an increased diversity of the club scene, with Latino, Korean and black rappers befriending each other.
“It’s a place that defies a lot of popular stereotypes of South Central’s place in the imagination,” Lee said.
But the fight for South Los Angeles is only beginning.
“We’ve lost tremendous ground just based on the numbers. At the end of the day we’re holding on by a thread and we’re still here,” said Najee Ali, standing on the corner of Florence and Normandie, about 15 feet from where Reginald Denny was nearly beaten to death. “Many of us are going to be here forever because this is our home.”
As the afternoon sun sat high above the neighborhood, Ali, now 53, looked over his shoulder to his wife, one of his daughters and two grandchildren. “I want a better quality of life for them,” he said.
“At the end of the day, those that were actually in it would do every damn thing we can to make sure it never happens again,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the lessons that we went through 25 years ago, that my children, my grand-children won’t ever have to go through again.”