Time again for StoryCorps. Today, remembering the Los Angeles riots. Twenty years ago, L.A. police officers were charged, then acquitted, of assaulting Rodney King. The news sparked riots in the city, and we'll hear next from three people who lived through them in the neighborhood of South Central. They were working at KJLH, an all-music station located on Crenshaw Boulevard, right in the heart of the riots.

KAREN SLADE: I'm Karen Slade. I'm the general manager of KJLH Radio. We were prepared for people to be unhappy. But we couldn't believe our eyes. People were beyond angry. They were crazy. It's like they lost their mind.

The phones started lighting up, and my jocks shut down the music. They stayed on the mic - they took the calls. And probably for the next three days, we just became all talk.


ERIC RICO REED: What is your name and where are you calling from?

ALLEN: OK. Hey, my name is Allen. I'm calling from Compton, 'cause they've been having fires out here. They say the guy got...

REED: What is your situation in that neighborhood right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A lot of smoke, a lot of sirens, a lot of gunshots and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Brothers, please, please stay indoors. Please, please take care of yourself.

REED: My name is Eric Rico Reed. Where we sat, our studio, we had a picture window, and it was just like looking at a movie screen, and we're looking right across the street at the TV repair shop, and we're watching people take something, throw it through the window, grab a broken TV.

I can't believe this guy. It's a TV repair shop. The TVs don't even work.


REED: They don't even work, man, they're just stealing them to be stealing them. It makes no sense.

It was crazy.


REED: There's a fire truck missing right now. A fire truck, a fire truck has been stolen.

ARTHUR WILLIAMS: My name is Arthur Williams. We saw an Hispanic guy. He was being beat severely, and a black priest went out in the middle of the street and held his Bible up and draped himself over the guy that everybody was beating. And they dispersed. You know, what he did was unbelievable. So I said he's a hero.


REED: It took almost forever to get stores back in the community that were burnt to the ground.

SLADE: It's very disheartening, but the knuckleheads were few. They were devastating and they had a horrible impact. But they didn't destroy the community. One lady came out and she had some of the neighborhood kids and she got them brooms and everybody was sweeping. They were cleaning up Crenshaw. I had never seen it before.

REED: There were just so many things that were in our community. Our community wasn't perfect, but it was gorgeous. And some areas haven't come back and probably never will.


MONTAGNE: We heard Eric Rico Reed, Karen Slade, and Arthur Williams remembering the L.A. riots at StoryCorps. Their interviews will be archived with all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Get the project's podcast at

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from