LA Riots: Remembering 'Saigu' 30 years later

The gathering hosted by six Korean and Black organizations in Liberty Park on April 29, 2022 was far different and far friendlier than what happened in Koreatown three decades earlier. 

In the Korean-American community, they’ve got a word for the fires, looting and rioting from 1992. The word is "Saigu." Like 9/11, Saigu means 4/29 for April 29; the day in 1992 the Rodney King verdict triggered an uprising in Los Angeles.

Connie Chung Joe is the CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and Robert Ahn is a Director with the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles.

What happened 30 years ago was devastating. Chung Joe says the six days of chaos caused "a billion dollars in property damage, of which $400 million was to Korean owned businesses."

Korean-owned businesses in South LA were hit first. 

Robert Ahn says there was a wave of anxiety in Koreatown that he describes as terrifying. He was an 11th grader at the time.

Also terrifying was "a noticeable absence of law enforcement."

LA Riots: A look back 30 years later

"Korean-owned businesses starting calling 9-1-1 asking for help and asking for protection," Chung Joe said. "Firefighters and Police did not respond to those calls for days until the National Guard was called in."

"So we boarded up the shops and a lot of family run business shopkeepers decided to arms themselves because of the lack of law enforcement," Han said.

Both Ahn and Chung Jo believe the case of Letasha Harlins six months earlier set the stage for what was to come in the Korean community. 

The 15-year-old was shot and killed at Empire Liquor Market in South LA by a Korean shopowner who thought the teenager was shoplifting. 

When the case got to court Chung Joe says, "The judge decided to sentence The Shower to not a single day of jail time for what had happened." 

She says that was viewed as unfair ratcheting up an already existing tension.

"No question. There was a palpable tension within the various communities here in Los Angeles," Ahmed said.

Now, it’s 30 years later and at the event the sponsoring organizations shared a single goal: Unity. 

"Yes, we’ve had tensions in the past," Chung Joe said. "We had the Latasha Harlins murder. We had so many other things that happened, but we really need to look forward."

Ahem agrees. 

"I would say to each of the communities we have far more in common than indifferences and so it’s really incumbent upon us to work together as one community because we all share common concerns and common goals," he said.

The goal now for the organizations involved is to continue to move forward and build on their common ground with the hope of preventing another instance of what happened 30 years ago