Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Reflecting Back on the L.A. Civil Unrest 26 Years Later

Friday, April 27th 2018

Advancing Justice-LA Board Member and longtime community leader John Lim looks back on his service following the 1992 Civil Unrest in Los Angeles. 

 
 
Steve Grayson / WireImage / National Geogrphic
 
Twenty-six years ago, I witnessed a gross injustice inflicted on African Americans after the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King.  That same day, on 4/29/1992, that injustice triggered another unbearable injustice in Los Angeles.  Without anywhere to turn to for help, many in the Korean American community were left without food and basic necessities after witnessing the destruction and loss of their entire livelihood and the community they called home. 
 
My family immigrated to the United States from Seoul, Korea in 1967. I went to school and grew up in Koreatown.  To witness its destruction left me with strong emotions—empathy, rage, confusion and compassion.  It did not take me long to realize that I could not afford to dwell on those emotions.  I had to pivot and take a leadership role in the relief efforts by building a platform to provide legal support to the victims of the Los Angeles civil unrest.
 
As the then-President of the Korean American Bar Association (KABA) of Southern California, it was my duty to mobilize an army of selfless and dedicated lawyers to respond to the unfolding devastation around us.  With surprisingly minimal effort and in short time, some 80 KABA lawyers came together to provide pro bono legal services. We set up shop at various locations around the city, including at OMC, the largest Korean American church in K-town at the time, where my father was the founding pastor. For nearly a year, we made extraordinary efforts to remediate the sufferings of the victims with legal matters ranging from lease issues, small business loan defaults and insurance coverage determinations, to procuring permits to rebuild their destroyed stores.  
 
The situation was dire. Most of our clients were immigrants themselves and their business served as their sole source of income. When they came to us for help, they were heartbroken. Even after 26 years, I vividly recall the 14-hours a days, 7-days a week schedule I endured throughout the year.  It was exhausting and the pro bono KABA lawyers were reaching the limit of their capacity to work without pay.  It became increasingly obvious to me that we needed to find a more systematic, sustainable solution.  We desperately needed an organization that had the infrastructure and resources to help the victims on an ongoing basis -- a public interest law group and trusting partner grounded in the community that we were serving. 
 
It was then that we joined forces with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (then called the Asian Pacific American Legal Center).  While it was not a big organization at that time, we found the best possible partner in Advancing Justice-LA.  Under the strong leadership of Stewart Kwoh and his team, we built a collaborative platform that included the negotiation of small business loans that fueled the recovery and rebuilding effort. The partnership between Advancing Justice-LA and KABA has solidified over the years because it makes so much sense.  When you have the best and strongest partner on your journey, why go alone?
 
Through this close working relationship, I joined the Board of Advancing Justice-LA 25 years ago, including 7 years as the Board Chair.  Built from a partnership that began in the most devastating of circumstances, this extraordinary journey continues on to this day.
 

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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.