Another five-year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, another opportunity for media glorification of racial mayhem. The New York Times outdoes itself this year with a fawning profile of one of the sadists who stomped and bludgeoned trucker Reginald Denny nearly to death on April 29, 1992, as Denny tried to maneuver his truck through the already anarchic intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles.

Henry Keith Watson, an ex-con who had just assaulted an Asian man, stood on Reginald Denny’s neck and head as others kicked him. Watson never served any time for his participation in this grotesque explosion of racial hatred. The Times notes admiringly that Watson apologized to Denny on a talk show.

That forced contrition—an apology was a condition of his probation sentence as well—was short-lived. “Now, 25 years later, Mr. Watson is not in the mood to say sorry,” Times reporter Jennifer Medina writes. Of course not. Why should he be? Watson “called himself ‘an angry black man’ one afternoon this week as he sat on the porch of his home,” Medina reports. “As he has done each anniversary, he is selling Florence and Normandie T-shirts and throwing a block party on Saturday”—a natural way to commemorate a conflagration that took over 50 lives and caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage. The Times does not bother speaking to any of the thousands of victims of that racial mayhem, instead foregrounding Watson’s complaints about ongoing “oppression.” “Nothing has changed, nothing,” Watson grouses. A friend of Watson’s, Nathan Smith, who was on parole in 1992, predicts that another riot is likely. Back then, Smith says, “We all felt like, ‘We’ve been telling you we’re angry and you’re not listening, so now we’re going to show you.” “Showing you” consisted of burning down businesses that have struggled to survive constant robberies and assaults on their employees and have only succeeded due to a fierce work ethic. “Showing you” also consisted of pulling drivers from their cars and mutilating them. Even if there were some legitimate “you” that is responsible for the social chaos of the ghetto, it is certainly not a Korean convenience store owner or a construction worker returning from work.

The familiar “nothing has changed” complaint embodies the entitlement mentality. Its logic is the following: “We destroy the businesses that have served us for decades; we unleash savage violence against every ethnic group other than our own. So why aren’t things better now in our neighborhoods? Government and society owe us reparations in response to our feral rage against other people’s livelihoods and lives.” But a riot is inevitably going to make the local situation worse. Mainstream businesses will be even less willing to move into a riot zone; property values, already depressed by high crime, will plummet further. Though governments usually do respond to riots with cash and programs, such intervention is not going to make any difference unless individuals in the community make better personal choices: paying attention in class, studying, not committing crime, staying in a job, and not having children out-of-wedlock.

The University of California’s massive diversity bureaucracy also got into the game of riot whitewash. UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Jerry Kang, is sponsoring a student art competition to commemorate the “social rebellion.” Students can submit performance art, poetry, or visual art to “critically examine the root causes of this historic event . . . and its relevance to contemporary issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Do not expect any installations featuring the charred remains of torched business. To gain “inspiration” for their art works, the competitors had to attend at least one panel in an April 28 conference on the “Los Angeles uprisings,” also organized by the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. That conference assembled ethnic studies professors and racial activists; no first responders were included.

One victim of the riots did squeak in, but only because she adopts the mandatory view of racial violence. Carol Park’s memoir of helping to operate her widowed mother’s gas station in Compton, Memoir of a Cashier: Korean Americans, Racism, and Riots, frankly describes the anti-Korean racism regularly directed at her and her mother. Park's mother barely escaped unharmed from the gas station on the first night of riots. When she returned home, she told her children to do their homework but otherwise said nothing about the spreading violence. That admonition tells you everything you need to know about the "oppression" that allegedly lies at the root of ethnic economic differences. Park attributes anti-Korean hatred and rioting, however, to widespread “racial discrimination” and “governmental neglect.”

Jerry Kang moved over from the UCLA law school to become UCLA’s first Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; as a law professor, he studied “implicit bias.” Kang’s starting salary as Vice Chancellor in 2015 was $354,900, undoubtedly socked away in West Side real estate and financial instruments out of the range of looters. Today Kang busies himself with “building equity” for UCLA’s allegedly oppressed students, who, with their access to boundless academic resources, number among the most advantaged people in human history. Kang’s “equity” mission for privileged students is as delusional as celebrating riots as “social uprisings.”  Instead, such violence should be denounced as murderous rampages that threaten civilization itself.

Photo by Patrick Downs


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next