Saturday, April 29 will be the 20th Anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, one of the largest and most violent demonstrations of civil unrest in modern American history. Throughout the week, Patch will be gathering the recollections of Angelenos who lived through the four tumultuous days.
The violence of the Los Angeles riots was concentrated miles away from Highland Park, in neighborhoods like South-Central and Koreatown, where simmering racial tensions boiled over.
The enduring images of the riots weren't captured in Northeast Los Angeles, but Gang Unit Detective Rick Ortiz, 54, remembers tense days in the Division.
"We were mobilized right away," Ortiz said. "We were 12-hour shifts, day after day, with no days off."
Ortiz remembers a Circuit City located on Sunset in East Hollywood being looted, while the owners of another electronics store in Hollywood climbed to the roof of their building to ward of looters with shotguns.
"I don't think anybody got anything from that store," Ortiz said.
For Ortiz, the most dangerous event of the riots came unexpectedly--and at night.
He and his partner were on patrol in division, enforcing the dawn to dusk curfew.
"My partner and it were in our cruiser, and we saw a guy running from us," Ortiz said.
Distracted by the man in the street, Ortiz was suddenly struck on the left side of his face by the debris of a glass bottle, thrown by an unknown assailant.
"The streets were dead, but this guy blindsided us," Ortiz said. "Nobody saw anybody."
The bottle shattered the cruiser's window, with the shards piercing Ortiz's eyes.
He was sent home for a day to recover, before being put back on duty.
Throughout the riots and in the years after, the Los Angeles Police Department received much of the blame for the escalation of violence.
Outnumbered officers fled from mobs in South-Central, while Koreatown's shop owners were left to fend for themselves.
"Nobody was ready for something like, back in those days," Ortiz said. "Now, everyone who comes onto the department is trained to deal with those types of situations."
Ortiz and his peers on the force learned the lessons of the L.A. Riots first hand, though, and he recognizes that 20 years is a long time.
"Back then, we were the new guys on the force," he said. "Now we're the old men."
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