In 1992, four police officers were acquitted in the beating of a Black man, Rodney King, whose brutal arrest had been caught on camera. Pent-up fury from years of racial and economic inequality in Los Angeles spilled onto the streets in waves of burning, looting and violence that lasted three days and left 45 people dead.
Rosina Becerra was dean of UCLA Social Welfare at the time. Joe Nunn and Alfreda Iglehart were on the faculty. Laura Alongi, currently a field faculty member, was in her early 20s and a second-year master’s student studying to be a social worker.
What they and others did next was “perhaps our finest moment,” said Nunn, who, like Becerra and Iglehart, is now a professor emeritus at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“There were people who were afraid to leave their houses,” Becerra remembered. “A lot of people were unable to figure out where to get services. They didn’t know who to call.”
Within days of the uprising, officials at Los Angeles’ public television station, KCET, reached out seeking advice through Mitch Maki, a field faculty member at the time whose wife was a station employee. Becerra recalls sitting at a conference table with Maki and station employees eager to assist but unsure how to respond to people’s emotional turmoil. What did people need?
“Mostly, they need a chance to talk,” Becerra told them.
Three days later, UCLA Social Welfare and KCET-TV launched a crisis line during which faculty, students and other volunteers recruited by UCLA answered calls from distressed citizens via the telephones normally used during the station’s pledge drives. They called it “A Chance to Talk: Emotional Support in Times of Crisis.”