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Former Mayor James Hahn remembers '92 (and '65) LA Riots

Former LA City Attorney and Mayor James Hahn, now an LA Superior Court judge.
Former LA City Attorney and Mayor James Hahn, now an LA Superior Court judge.

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In a long interview recalling both the 1965 and 1992 LA Riots, James Hahn brings important perspective to the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Riots.

Hahn was the son of L.A. icon Kenny Hahn, the longtime L.A. County Supervisor, and grew up in an all-black neighborhood. He was City Attorney in 1992, later becoming Mayor for one term, and now serves as L.A. Superior Court Judge. As kid, he remembers how the atmosphere suddenly changed after the Watts Riots: Fear entered the equation.

On April 29, 1992, he was driving down Florence on his way to his parents' house. On the radio, he heard about the rioting and diverted to side streets. When he got to his folks' house, he turned on the TV and realized he would have beaten Reginald Denny to Florence and Normandie by 5 minutes.

Hahn says he tried to reach police stations to urge them to keep people away from the riot areas, so swelling crowds wouldn't lead to more rioting. He says he urged someone from the L.A.P.D. to go on TV to reassure the public that police hadn't abandoned the city, since that's what it looked like on the TV.

"We don't have a TV in the station house," one officer told him.

He called the mayor's office to advise them that they might want to impose a curfew. He remembers the response: "If we impose a curfew, that might hurt restaurant business." Nobody's going to be going out tonight, he thought.

It wasn't just the L.A.P.D. that didn't act, Hahn says. Many city officials were afraid of taking an action that might be the wrong one. They were paralyzed, too.

And he reminds us that the jury in Simi Valley saw more of the Rodney King beating videotape than was broadcast around the world; they saw the first 15 seconds, in which King gets up and charges the cops.