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Korean American leaders look back on the 1992 LA Riots to create new priorities

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Here in Los Angeles, Korean American leaders are marking 30 years since the Los Angeles race riots. Korean-run businesses were disproportionately affected during the six days of civil unrest. Josie Huang from member station KPCC reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Let's go. Let's go. Hey, hey.

JOSIE HUANG, BYLINE: If you passed through Koreatown on Friday night, you'd think, outdoor rap concert. Except it was an event to remember some of LA's darkest days.

CONNIE CHUNG JOE: The reason we have musicians who are going to attract a younger crowd is because we wanted to do some education and awareness building.

HUANG: One of the organizers, Connie Chung Joe, is with the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice. She was 14 when a nearly all white jury in 1992 acquitted the LAPD officers who had beaten Black motorist Rodney King.

JOE: As I was taking the bus home, there were fires everywhere. And some uncles that I found out later on had also grabbed guns, went to the top of their stores in order to protect it.

HUANG: Racial tensions in LA had been mounting before that day. The same month King was beaten, a Korean American shopkeeper in South LA named Soon Ja Du had accused 15-year-old Black girl Latasha Harlins of theft and fatally shot her in the back of the head. Du was sentenced to probation but did not serve time. Connie Chung Joe says it's a history many younger Korean Americans are missing.

JOE: They don't know who Latasha Harlins is. They don't know what happened between the Korean and Black communities. They don't know about 40 to 50% of the property damage during the LA uprising being to Korean businesses.

HUANG: For today's Korean American leaders, the events of '92 established new priorities like creating greater unity, says New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim.

ANDY KIM: What happened wasn't just about Korean Americans in LA. It affected all of us around the country.

HUANG: He was in LA to show solidarity at the event, which was co-planned with Black organizations.

KIM: You got to be a friend before you need a friend, you know, this idea that you got to build those relationships and not just call upon people when you need help.

HUANG: Also at the concert was Breanna Pak (ph). She's 27 and grew up knowing little about the unrest until college. Her views are informed more by recent social movements like Black Lives Matter.

BREANNA PAK: I think it's just important to remember, like, everyone's a person. So you have to kind of, like, treat everyone with the same respect.

HUANG: Pak was here because she liked the artists. She was joined by hundreds who, like her, weren't even alive in '92. Together, they observed the past while moving to a beat.

For NPR News, I'm Josie Huang in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Josie Huang