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CNN Sunday Morning

A Look Back at L.A. Riots; Interview with John Burris, Bernard Kinsey, Jervey Tervalon

Aired April 28, 2002 - 09:37   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this morning we are taking a closer look at the LA riots. On April 29th, 1992, a jury verdict ignited the anger of a city. Four White police officers were acquitted in the 1991 beating of Rodney King. What happened in the days after that verdict led to 55 deaths and an estimated one billion dollars in damage. Now a look back at how it all began.


UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's perhaps the most notorious police brutality case in recent memory.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Those blows continued and continued and continued for no just reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We the jury find the defendants not guilty of the crime of assault by force...

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Updating this latest story, four (inaudible) and former Los Angeles police officers were acquitted today of all but one criminal charge in the beating of motorist Rodney King.

DARRYL GATES, FORMER POLICE CHIEF: First of all, the people of this city will recognize that this is indeed our system of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To have this verdict, what these people have done is lit the fuse to a bomb, and what happens after this, people are going to point to this.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Disbelief, shock and anger, that was how people at this barber in South Central Los Angeles reacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a damn shame.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible). You know, like (inaudible) so I hope I hope that they don't.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Is there that possibility?

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT 2: What you're seeing now is from inside Parker Center, and I believe that this is when, what was supposed to be a very peaceful protest actually turned very violent. UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: More than 200 officers in riot gear encircled the building. Demonstrators retreated, but some knocked over a guard shack. It crashed to the ground and was set on fire with paper leaflets. Police moved in and began arresting some of the demonstrators.

The intensity of the rioting forced Mayor Bradley to declare a state of emergency. The night air was thick with fires, the streets filled with unrest and police under attack.

TOM BRADLEY, FORMER MAYOR, LOS ANGELES: We must not, we will not respond to this senseless jury verdict with senseless acts or anything. Instead, we must, we will show the world what is possible in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: This is the biggest fire that we have at this point, the largest plume of smoke that we see.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT 2: The looting continues. So far, however, there have been no confrontations between police and looters. Most of it has been concentrated in this area, South Central Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It ain't all about race. It ain't all about the color. What it's about, we not (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't even have enough police out here to do what they have to do, and all these people around here, we're overpowering them.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: That's just burning to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT 2: This is one scene many of us will never forget, angry people in the streets pulled at least four drivers from their vehicles and severely beat them.

RODNEY KING, POLICE BEATING VICTIM: People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?


PHILLIPS: Our thanks to editor Anthony Whaley (ph) for his help in putting that incredible piece together. Well, joining us now, John Burris, one of Rodney King's attorneys in the civil case. He's also the author of "Blue versus Black" the conflict between cops and minorities, and joining us from Los Angeles, Jervey Tervalon, the author of "Geography of Rage," remembering the Los Angeles riots, and the new novel, "All the Trouble you Need." Also in Los Angeles, Bernard Kinsey, he's a former co-chairman of Rebuild LA. Gentlemen, good morning.



JERVEY TERVALON, AUTHOR: Good morning. PHILLIPS: I guess before we begin looking back at those picture and thinking back ten years and looking at the situation now, how far have we all come when it comes to race relations, specifically in Los Angeles, each of you, please briefly? John, why don't we begin with you.

BURRIS: I think that real progress is being made. I mean there's a considerable number of people on all sides of the table, trying to make it happen. The real problem is what happens when you have police issues that develop, and over the last ten years, there's been starts and stops in connection with LAPD, including going to the rampart situation, where we had these cops in a certain area committing violent acts.

No matter what you try to do, if you have a violent eruption with the police, that has a tendency to exacerbate the situation, and now LAPD is under a consent degree that gives the government, as well as LAPD an opportunity to really address in a systemic way some of the police issues. So, I think progress is being made with respect to police issues, but obviously we have a long way to go.

PHILLIPS: All right, a positive note. Kervey, how about you?

TERVALON: Well, I think right now, we do understand each other better, the race relations in Los Angeles. But I taught high school for five years, and you think about the services that the poor receive in Los Angeles, and I think that you have to say that things have declined.

PHILLIPS: And Bernard?

KINSEY: Well, race relations have gotten a lot better as the recent survey that was published just Thursday of last week. In almost every sector of the city, Jewish, Latino, Korean, Black, there's been a very, very big change in attitudes toward the races, and I believe because the economics of South Los Angeles have improved, so when people feel better, they're more apt to deal with other groups better.

So I think what John has said I would agree with, in that there's been a big improvement, but including with the police. I think what's happened with the Sheriff's Department in the county and with the LAPD has made a marked difference in the last ten years.

PHILLIPS: OK, gentlemen, we're off to a good start. You all have positive things to say. John, we've been receiving a lot of e- mails wondering where Rodney King is now and what he's doing?

BURRIS: Well, I really haven't been involved with Rodney King since the trial itself. His name does surface from time to time in the community. But in terms of what he's actually doing, that I have no real sense.

Unfortunately for him, he became a symbol of a movement or certainly symbolic of the kind of treatment that African-Americans receive in this country. I don't think that he was really equipped for that necessarily, but he did, unwillingly of course, bring forth the kind of police issues that I don't think America had really seen before.

So in that sense, he was the most significant person in the 1990s as it related to bringing forth the issues around police brutality, and from that, we saw a lot of other cases, but certainly he was the most, singly most important figure.

PHILLIPS: He did have a number of run-ins with the law since then. Bernard or Jervey, do you know where or what Rodney is doing now?

TERVALON: Surfing, last I heard.

PHILLIPS: What about Reginald Denney (ph), a lot of people wanting to know about him also. The specific particular question from David Masario (ph): "What is the semi trailer truck driver that was assaulted with the blows to the head? I was amazed he didn't die. I hope he's well. Either one of you?

TERVALON: I have no idea.

PHILLIPS: Isn't that interesting, ten years later, we don't follow up with these folks?

KINSEY: Well, I think in Reginald Denney's case, some of the people we're talking about have wanted to get back to their lives, and I think people have allowed them to do that.

PHILLIPS: All right, this one comes from Jack in Lafayette. He wants to know: "What training do police officers receive about race relations and interacting with the public now?" John.

BURRIS: You know, that's actually a very important part of the training now. I think that officers are all taught, not only in LAPD but in other areas about the sensitivities related to different ethnic groups. Sensitivity training, racial training, stereotypic training are all given to LAPD officers (inaudible).

But that's not the end of the day, of course. Just because you've been trained, the question is whether the culture of the department allows for you to treat people in a certain way and to go against some of the training that people have. And unfortunately, the training that they have doesn't always match up with the kind of conditions that exist within the department itself on the street.

PHILLIPS: John, and Jervey and Bernard, we're going to ask you to hold on just for a moment. We got a bit of Breaking News to go to. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: All right, right after a quick break, we're going to talk more about the Los Angeles riots ten years later, as soon as we return. You can call us now. We've got plenty of e-mails, but give us a call, 404-221-1855.


PHILLIPS: Continuing our discussion now, ten years after the riots in Los Angeles, after the Rodney King, or the acquittal of the four police officers concerning the Rodney King beating. Once again, John Burris, one of Rodney King's attorneys. He's with us. Jervey Tervalon, the author of "Geography of Rage, Remembering the Los Angeles Riots," and Bernard Kinsey, former co-chairman of Rebuild LA.

Gentlemen, we were talking about police officers, LAPD police officers receiving race relations training. I even remember being there as a journalist, not long after the situation we had to go through diversity training. All types of businesses had to go through diversity training. Jervey, do you think one good outcome that came from this is that just the appreciation of diversity among all colors, businesses, et cetera?

TERVALON: Yes. It's of paramount importance to maintain some kind of atmosphere that isn't violent or angry, because if you think about it, Darryl Gates went to a cocktail party, and as a result, you know, we had a billion dollar catastrophe and now the man is running again. So hopefully he's had some sensitivity training.

PHILLIPS: Yes, what do you guys think about that, Darryl Gates coming out and saying that he does want to run for police chief again? Bernard.

KINSEY: Well, I think that Darryl has had his time and has demonstrated that he does not have the right leadership skills to take the LAPD over the next phase of this development. We've been very fortunate in LA to have a police chief in the last ten years that really improved race relations on a lot of levels, including the LA Sheriff's Department. I don't think we want to go back with looking at some of the policies of LAPD of old.

BURRIS: Can I say one more point here?

PHILLIPS: Yes, go right ahead.

BURRIS: Even though you have the diversity training imposed in LAPD, you still have a disproportionately high number of African- Americans and Hispanics who are the subject of excessive force claims, racial slur claims. .

So what that really means though, even though they're being trained, the culture of the department and the old guard within the department still allow for that level of treatment and misconduct, and basically aviate whatever effect that the diversity training has.

Now it obviously has some good, but is hasn't necessarily translated into having a very positive long-term relationship between the community and police officers.

PHILLIPS: Gentlemen, unfortunately Breaking News has cut into our time. I want to get in one more e-mail though, and get you all three to respond to this quickly. This comes from Toronto, C. Benson (ph): "If the police officers had been convicted with Rodney King's beating, O.J. Simpson would be in jail today." Very interesting, a lot of criticism came out against the D.A.'s department, the court system after that happened. I want to get all of you to respond to that. What do you think? John, go ahead and start.

BURRIS: Well, I don't know if that's necessarily true. I think that what the O.J. Simpson case did showed obviously the disparity and the perception of what police officers do in one community versus another. So, you may be right there. Who knows? But I do know that the O.J. Simpson case illustrated again the disparity and police perception among the African-American community and the White community, based upon the comments of Mark Fuhrman.


TERVALON: I think what's important is if those police officers would have been convicted, I think we probably wouldn't have had one of the greatest instances of civil disturbance in the history of the United States.

PHILLIPS: Finally, Bernard.

KINSEY: Well, I would agree, but I think the real story of the LA riots ten years later is not police perceptions and all of that, but the tremendous economic activity that has occurred in Los Angeles, south Los Angeles.

There's been over almost a billion 400 million dollars in investment in south Los Angeles from Wal-Mart on the way, Home Depot, new shopping centers, 32 new grocery stores. I think that's the message that I'd like people around this country to hear that Los Angeles is back in a big way and south Los Angeles has recovered from the worst riot in its history.

And we would offer that what has happened in our churches, what has happened in our city council areas in the county government, along with the business community have been one huge success, and we're very proud of the rebuilding that's taken place in Los Angeles.

PHILLIPS: Bernard, very well. Well, good point. You go through that Crenshaw area, you do see a major difference.

KINSEY: It's huge.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it's incredible.

KINSEY: You can see what's happening.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. Bernard Kinsey, Jervey Tervalon, John Burris, sorry we had to cut it short, but gentlemen, you all had wonderful things to say. Thank you so much.

BURRIS: Thank you.

KINSEY: Thank you. TERVALON: Thank you.