South LA barbershop crowd recalls being at epicenter of 1992 LA riots

SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the Southland marks the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a South Los Angeles barbershop crowd recalled being at the epicenter of the unrest.

Over five days, Angelenos saw protesters take to the streets in anger over the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial.

"I was here on Florence Avenue when it occurred," barbershop owner Lawrence Tolliver Jr. said. "People said, 'You know we got to do something.' But we as fair-minded people, we didn't think that burning our neighborhood was going to be the answer."

MORE: New poll suggests LA residents think more riots ahead

Tolliver's neighborhood was thrust into the epicenter of the racially fueled explosion after white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the beating of King.

"Just to have survived is nothing but a miracle," business owner Williams Taylor said.

"We got shot at. I saw muzzle flashes and we ducked," former journalist Herbert A. Sample described. "I was angry, just as a black man, because of the verdicts."

At Tolliver's barbershop, haircuts come with a social edge. Youth leader Mike Emmanuel warned the truth wasn't always comfortable.

"I think the biggest fear that black men experience right now is still what I felt when I was a teenager, is being pulled over by the police officer and you may not get home," Emmanuel said.

MORE: ABC7 reporters recall covering LA riots

Those at the barbershop said they've seen gaps and gains since the riots.

"I can't say I've seen enough that's been done, but I have seen progress being done," said Earl Van Lawson, a South Los Angeles resident.

"Bernard Parks and Bratton and Beck, those officers have been in this barbershop dialoguing with us. That's better," Taylor said.

MORE: Mayor Garcetti, LAPD Chief Beck reflect on 1992 Los Angeles riots

Those who survived the riots described living in today's cellphone video era of troubling arrests and eroding trust.

"Learn to respect the police department because we definitely need them, but at the same hand, when they make a mistake, live up to it," resident Michael Bankhead said.

"I am not concerned about criminals with guns getting shot. I'm very much concerned about people in the gray area. People that may have some misconduct who end up losing their lives when there's no weapon involved," retired pharmacist Michael C. Washington said.

Where there appears to be active debate within the barbershop is the confrontational protest tactics exercised by the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Just by running around marching and hollering and disrupting meetings and stuff, that's not beneficial. You are going to have to get some dialogue," Tolliver said.

"I think the Black Lives movement now allows whatever anger there is and criticism there is to be voiced in a way that the powers that be hear it," Sample said.

As veterans of conflict, they said hearing each other is vital and a task that must be ongoing.

"Are we building bridges? Are we working harmoniously to try and see this doesn't repeat itself?" Taylor asked.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.