LOS ANGELES — After an all-white jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, it was only minutes before Henry Keith Watson joined hundreds of others here at the corner of Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles. They were filled with fury and disbelief, and eager to show it to the rest of the world.
Mr. Watson was one of the four men convicted in the beating of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who tried to pass through the intersection before he was pulled from his vehicle. With news helicopters hovering above, the intersection became the flash point in the 1992 riots that rocked this city. Mr. Watson, who held Mr. Denny’s neck down with his foot, was later convicted of assault for his role in the beating. He later apologized to Mr. Denny on a nationally televised talk show.
Now, 25 years later, Mr. Watson is not in the mood to say sorry — he called himself “an angry black man” one afternoon this week as he sat on the porch of his home. Earlier this year, he hired an artist to paint a mural commemorating the events of 1992 on a brick wall alongside his house. As he has done each anniversary, he is selling Florence and Normandie T-shirts and throwing a block party on Saturday.
“Nothing has changed, nothing,” Mr. Watson said. “We gave L.A. a black eye. Everyone in the world knows about Florence and Normandie. You think any official wants to acknowledge that? We still have Flint, Ferguson, all those places, nothing has changed. The oppression is deep rooted and it doesn’t go away. History has a way of repeating itself.”
Still, in the two and a half decades since the riots left more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and more than $1 billion in damage, much has changed in Los Angeles and in the neighborhood where the violence first exploded. (It was called South Central then, but city officials later rechristened it South Los Angeles in an attempt to repair its image.) The Los Angeles Police Department is widely regarded as a reformed force, after many community demands for more oversight were made and a consent decree was reached with the federal Department of Justice. Crime has gone down throughout the city and race relations have significantly improved.