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Surveying the Aftermath of the L.A. Riots

Uncovering the false starts and strange turns the city of Los Angeles took as leaders aimed to rebuild.

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At the end of the largest civil disturbance in American history, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley faced a seemingly impossible situation: Dozens of people had been killed, and thousands injured. The city had sustained more than a billion dollars in property damage, most of it on the south side. And the riots had exposed the fact that much of the city lived in grinding poverty, lacked opportunity, and were oppressed by hostile policing.

It was clear that Los Angeles needed to be rebuilt in more ways than one. Bradley had been in charge of the city since 1973. He’d been elected L.A.’s first Black mayor by bringing together a broad coalition of minorities, white liberals, and business interests behind a vision of Los Angeles as a diverse commercial and cultural powerhouse. Now, Bradley’s political career was almost over. But he had one last chance to do something great—to help his city recover from the worst crisis in its history.

During this season of Slow Burn, we’re covering the people and events behind the L.A. riots. On the final episode of our season, we tell the story of the aftermath. Could Tom Bradley rebuild LA? Would the riots change the LAPD and policing in America? And how did Rodney King weather the storm? Below you’ll find some of the links that helped me understand Bradley’s plan to revitalize the city and reform the police—and where much of it fell short.—Joel Anderson

Tom Bradley, Mayor in Era of Los Angeles Growth, Dies

Jane Fritsch
The New York Times

Joel Anderson: “This obituary for Tom Bradley covers his time as mayor and his approach to governing. For most of his tenure, he was popular, in charge as the city grew into a cultural powerhouse and the second-largest city in the country. By the time of the riots, Bradley had been in office for almost two decades and was weighing whether to run for a sixth term. Months later, he decided against it.”

Olympic Games Open in L.A. (1984)

Jan Thiessen
The San Diego Union-Tribune

JA: “The 1984 Summer Olympics were one of Bradley’s biggest triumphs as mayor. L.A. privately financed the Games and finished with a surplus of more than $200 million: It was unprecedented. Bradley’s partner in the effort—and the president of the organizing committee for the ‘84 Olympics—was Peter Ueberroth, a businessman who later became commissioner of Major League Baseball. Their success with the Olympics would influence Bradley’s plans after the riots.”

Peter Ueberroth and the American Way

The Washington Post

JA: “Ueberroth had wooed the corporate sponsors who made the ‘84 Olympics profitable. In this excerpt from a book published two years later, he gives his first-person account of putting the event together. One of the people I spoke with for this episode told me that Ueberroth became a ‘phenomenon in L.A.’ as a result of his success with the Games.”

Ueberroth Will Direct City Rebuilding Effort

Frank CliffordJohn Schwada
Los Angeles Times

JA: “Bradley asked Ueberroth to lead the rebuilding effort and do for Los Angeles’s blighted neighborhoods what he’d done with the Olympics: Harness the money and clout of the private sector to achieve what seemed impossible. And at first, the money seemed to be pouring in. Major companies promised investments in the community. Ueberroth said he expected to raise a billion dollars in the effort.”

19 of 68 Firms Question Listing by Rebuild L.A.

Nancy Rivera BrooksHenry Weinstein
Los Angeles Times

JA: “When the L.A. Times called the companies listed by Rebuild L.A. as supporters, reporters found that some had no plans to invest and were unsure why they were on the group’s list. Bernard Kinsey, a former Xerox executive who had become chief operating officer of Rebuild L.A., told us that the media scrutiny ‘hurt us all in terms of our credibility.’ Ueberroth stepped down after just a year, and Kinsey followed soon after.”

LAPD Disciplinary System to Undergo Major Restructuring

Leslie Berger
Los Angeles Times

JA: “The best hope for police reform came from Charter Amendment F, and it was on the ballot in June 1992. If the amendment passed, then the city might have a chance to exert some control over the LAPD. If it failed, the department would essentially continue to run itself. Supporters of police chief Daryl Gates and the LAPD sought to use the chaos of the riots to their advantage. But in the end, Charter Amendment F passed by a 2-to-1 margin. This story helped us to understand what would change under the package of reforms.”

Willie Williams, Los Angeles Police Chief After the 1992 Riots, Dies at Age 72

Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times

JA: “A few days after Charter Amendment F’s passage, Gates cleared out his office and Bradley named Willie Williams as his replacement. Williams, the first Black police chief of the city, came from Philadelphia and shared many of Bradley’s ideas about reform. But his tenure was rocky, and he clashed with Bradley’s successor as mayor. This obituary from the L.A. Times gives a good summary of Williams’ time in L.A.”

Mystery Mayor

Frank Clifford
Los Angeles Times

JA: “Richard Riordan was the wild card in the 1993 mayoral election. The Republican businessman was the founder of a private equity firm, and one of the most well-connected people in Los Angeles. He’d also given more than $400,000 to Tom Bradley’s political campaigns, but he ran firmly as a conservative. He poured millions into his own campaign and promised to hire 3,000 new LAPD officers (winning him the police union’s endorsement). His victory meant that, in little more than a year, Los Angeles voters went from supporting a package of police reforms to electing the candidate endorsed by the LAPD rank and file.”

Joel Anderson

Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Seasons 3 and 6 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.