Twenty five years after Henry Keith Watson took part in a brutal attack on white truck driver Reginald Denny – an incident that helped spark the 1992 Los Angeles riots – he says current disparities and racism in south LA could easily incite people to riot again.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 27, 2017) (REUTERS) – A mural on the side wall of Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson’s house depicts the events that unfolded 25 years ago when riots, looting and fires engulfed Los Angeles after four policemen were acquitted of beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Watson, now 53-years-old, lives just blocks away from the intersection of Florence and Normandie in south Los Angeles, the site where he and three others pulled white truck driver Reginald Denny from his cab and beat him unconscious – an event that fueled 6 days of riots that left 53 people dead and caused an estimated $1 billion dollars in damage.
Watson was spared a felony assault charge, convicted instead with a misdemeanor assault. He apologized to Denny on a television talk show in 1993.
“I was swept up into the emotions. I was highly upset like the rest of the community was. We are tired of getting shit thrown our way. We are tired of being victims and being victimized. We are tired of the oppression and injustice,” he said.
That sense of oppression and injustice is still very real. While crime rates have decreased, south Los Angeles is still one of the poorest communities with one of the highest unemployment rates in the city.
About 20 blocks from Normandie and Florence, Dave and Melonee Evans vividly recall the fear they felt about losing their home, then newly purchased, when buildings nearby were engulfed in flames.
“It was definitely surreal. We had no idea what was going on,” said 53-year-old Melonee Evans. “It just felt like a bomb had exploded. It was just absolute chaos.” Melonee says the neighborhood has improved, but she fears another riot could be looming.
“We are finally, finally kind of moving forward and it took a long time. Things are finally getting better …the neighborhood is changing and everyone is growing and I would hate for it to happen again but with the things that are going on, I feel like it could,” she added.
“With all of the police misconduct, all of the murders and just the way the system is built right now, the way the government is being run, the way the gentrification is happening, it’s a recipe for it to happen again right now, again,” said self-proclaimed urban activist Ron Finley, who recalls the fear he felt trying to get his son home safely after a baseball game when the violence erupted.
The fear of another riot breaking out is very real, according to a new poll conducted by Loyola Marymount University, which found that a majority of LA residents believe riots could happen again in the near future. The poll, which has been conducted every 5 years since 1992, found for the first time a rise in the number of people worried about another riot.
Watson thinks another riot isn’t just possible – it’s inevitable.
“What do you mean could it happen again?” he asked. “Ain’t nothing has changed. What do you think has changed? Please tell me. Twenty five years ago they were beating niggers, 25 years later they are killing niggers, that is a change for the worse.”
Saturday (April 29) marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Los Angeles riots.