Executive Summary

South Central Los Angeles, in mainstream media and in the minds of those who do not work and live here, is often branded by the violent and chaotic flashpoints in its history, including the Watts Rebellion in 1965 and the LA Uprising in 1992. As we will demonstrate, these events were culminations of the generations of institutional neglect and exploitation that preceded them. Continuing to this day, albeit in different forms, this legacy still affects South LA residents in all aspects of their daily lives, from housing and employment, to transportation, policing, and the environment. Compounded, this overall disenfranchisement cannot be dismantled piece by piece at a time when South LA’s residents are increasingly vulnerable to multiple forms of displacement and erasure.

A Guide to Using This Report

Developed with the input of over 30 South LA community-based organizations and institutions and 125 resident leaders as part of the South LA Building Healthy Communities (South LA BHC) Collaborative, South Central Rooted sheds light on a history of structural and racialized inequity that spans over a century. These persistent conditions regularly elude the attention of mainstream media and public officials; however, the pervasiveness of these inequities has material consequences on the health and quality of life of South LA residents, from cradle to grave (and too often, early grave).

Gentrification, Displacement, & Homelessness

Poverty, Disinvestment, & Joblessness

Large-scale structural changes described in the previous driver have resulted in an increase in unemployment and poverty. And even when employed, South LA workers suffer from low-wages, nonstandard work arrangements, and growing income inequality. Poverty limits access to quality housing, education, economic opportunity, and healthy food, creating a cycle of hardship that is difficult to escape. The concentrated poverty in South LA continues to be shaped by a legacy of racial residential segregation and disinvestment and is linked to: a lack of quality educational and employment opportunities; exposure to violence, crime and increased policing; high incarceration rates; increased psychological stress and trauma; destabilization of family and community supports; and poor health outcomes.

Policing, Suppression, Deportation, and Mass Incarceration

Aggressive policing, which often leads to over-incarceration and immigrant deportation, has plagued inner-city neighborhoods like South LA for many decades, but the high-profile deaths of people of color in this community in recent years, especially African Americans, at the hands of law enforcement have elevated this issue to mainstream and academic attention.

Environmental Racism

Racist housing, land use, and labor policies, reinforced by gentrification, poverty, and over-policing, have not only dictated (and segregated) where longtime South LA residents could live.

Exposure to these hazards are linked to higher rates of asthma, elevated blood lead levels, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, learning disabilities, and negative birth outcomes. That race plays a significant role in the siting decisions of unwanted land uses by policymakers and industry. In South LA, as in many cities, the highest risk of pollution and environmental harm is assigned to Black and Brown communities.



South LA has been shaped by a century-long history of policy decisions that privilege corporations, developers, and White residents at the expense of communities of color, and Black and immigrant residents in particular. Abetted by elected officials and law enforcement, at multiple points in this history, public policies have led to the neglect, criminalization, exclusion, or displacement of low-income communities of color, creating the structural foundation upon which racial and economic injustice continue to operate to this day.
However, out of necessity, South LA has become a testing ground for innovative solutions. And while there is still a long way to go, South LA provides lessons for organizers, advocates, and funders working to advance long-term systems change.

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