Rodney King Responds to Los Angeles Riot

Rodney King Responds to Los Angeles Riot

Following the April 29, 1992, verdict in which four white Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, riots broke out across Los Angeles. On May 1, 1992, King pleads with citizens to stop the violence and "get along."

On this day in 1992 Rodney King asked, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’

With flames leaping over 50 feet into the night sky, an auto parts store burns out of control in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 30, 1992. Numerous fires were set and stores were looted after the Rodney King beating trial verdict. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac) AP

As a riot raged in southern Los Angeles, Calif., a man beaten by police after a high-speed chase asked for calm.

On May 1, 1992, Rodney King said, "People, I just want to say, can't we all get along? Can't we all get along?"

FILE - This May 1,1992 file photo shows Rodney King, right, accompanied by his attorney Steven Lerman, making his first statement, pleading for an end to the rioting in South Central Los Angeles, in Los Angeles. The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, was roiled by racial unrest after 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9. The street clashes there mirrored past, larger-scale riots in multiple US cities, most of them triggered by perceived racial injustice, or an incident involving police, in already tense communities. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, File) AP

King was caught by police on March 3, 1991, after the chase.

According to, “The officers pulled him out of the car and beat him brutally, while amateur cameraman George Holliday caught it all on videotape. The four L.A.P.D. officers involved were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. However, after a three-month trial, a predominantly white jury acquitted the officers, inflaming citizens and sparking the violent 1992 Los Angeles riots.”

**WARNING: Graphic Content** Steven Lerman, attorney for Rodney King, displays a photo of his client during a press conference at his office in Beverly Hills, California, Friday, March 8, 1991. King's doctor outlined the extent of man's injuries for reporters during the meeting. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) AP

The police officers charged were Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Stacey Koon.

Their trial was moved from Los Angeles to Simi Valley.

“The jury was comprised of ten white people, one Hispanic person and one Asian person, and many objected to the fact that there were no African-American jurors,” according to

The four police officers indicted for brutalizing black motorist Rodney King in a videotaped attack are shown in these police mug shots taken March 14, 1991. From left are: Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, Officer Theodore J. Briseno, Officer Timothy E. Wind and Officer Laurence Powell. Two served time in prison and all four lost their careers. Today, the LAPD officers whose videotaped beating of Rodney King and subsequent acquittal at a criminal trial triggered the Los Angeles riots prefer to fade away as footnotes to a story that changed the city and their lives forever. (AP Photo) AP

After deliberating for seven days, the jury acquitted the officers on April 29, 1992, triggering six days of riots that resulted in 63 people being killed, more than 2,300 injured, 12,000 arrested and about $1 billion in property damage. The California Army National Guard and federal troops from the 1st Marine Division were called in to help restore order. More than 3,600 fires were set and 1,100 buildings looted and destroyed. There also were multiple incidents of people being dragged from their vehicles while they waited at traffic signals.

FILE - This April 30, 1992 file photo shows looters running with stolen merchandise from a Payless Shoestore near the Crenshaw and Jefferson area of Los Angeles. Rodney King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation's history, has died, his publicist said Sunday, June 17, 2012. He was 47. (AP Photo/Akili-Casundria Ramsess, file) AP

From, “Immediately after the verdict was announced that afternoon, protestors took to the streets, engaging in random acts of violence. At the corner of Florence and Normandie streets, Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was dragged from his truck and severely beaten by several angry rioters.

A helicopter crew caught the incident on camera and broadcast it live on local television. Viewers saw first-hand that the police, woefully unprepared, were unwilling — or unable — to enforce the law in certain neighborhoods of the city. As it became evident that breaking the law in much of South Los Angeles would yield little, if any, consequences, opportunistic rioters came out in full force on the night of April 29, burning retail establishments all over the area.

Police still had no control of the situation the following day. Thousands of people packed the streets and began looting stores. Korean-owned businesses were targeted in particular. For most, the looting was simply a crime of opportunity rather than any political expression.”

Several buildings in a Boys Market shopping center are fully engulfed in flames before firefighters can arrive as rioting continued in South-Central Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 30, 1992 in the aftermath of the verdicts in the Rodney King assault case. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) AP

On May 1, 1992, the third day of the riots, King appealed to the public to stop the rioting.

"People, I just want to say, can't we all get along? Can't we all get along?"

Looters mill in the parking lot of the ABC Market in South Central Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 30, 1992, as violence continued following the verdicts in the Rodney King assault case on Wednesday. National Guard troops moved in Thursday to seize control of neighborhoods torn by riots in the enraged aftermath of the verdict in the Rodney King case. Looters plundered businesses and torched buildings in brazen daytime assaults. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) AP

“The United States Department of Justice filed federal civil rights charges against the four officers, and in August of 1992, two of them were found guilty while the other two were acquitted. King was eventually awarded $3.8 million in a civil trial for the injuries he sustained,” according to

Firefighters attend to an overturned burning car in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 29, 1992 after rioters took to the streets following the outcome of the Rodney King beating trail. (AP Photo/Doug Pizac) AP

According to, King lead a troubled life after the trial, including brushes with the law. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to driving under the influence of the drug PCP. In 2005 he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

He also appeared on television reality shows.

King died in 2012 after being found at the bottom of a swimming pool on June 17. Police said there were no signs of foul play.

FILE - In this April 30, 1992 file photo, a fire burns out of control at the corner of 67th Street and West Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, four white police officers were declared innocent in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, and Los Angeles erupted in deadly riots. Three days later, 55 people were dead and more than 2,000 injured. Fires and looting had destroyed $1 billion worth of property. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) AP

National Guardsmen stand ready for deployment near the corner of Wilshire and Vermont in Los Angeles on Thursday, May 1, 1992, as a citywide curfew goes into effect a day after the verdicts were handed down in the Rodney King beating trial. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) AP

A fireman walks through burned wreckage of a shopping mall in Los Angels, Thursday, April 30, 1992. The mall was burned by looters and rioters in the wake of the acquittal of four police officers who were videotaped beating motorist Rodney King last year. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) AP

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Rodney King dies at 47 victim of brutal beating became reluctant symbol of race relations

In his Rialto home, Rodney King looks at a photograph of himself from May 1, 1992, the third day of the Los Angeles riots.

Rodney King never set out to be a James Meredith or Rosa Parks.

He was a drunk, unemployed construction worker on parole when he careened into the city’s consciousness in a white Hyundai early one Sunday morning in 1991.

While he was enduring the videotaped blows that would reverberate around the world, he wanted to escape to a nearby park where his father used to take him. He simply wanted to survive.

He did survive, but the brutal beating transformed the troubled man into an icon of the civil rights movement. His very name became a symbol of police abuse and racial tensions, of one of the worst urban riots in American history.

More tangibly, the tape of his beating and the upheaval that followed in 1992 brought about the resignation of the long-reigning Los Angeles police chief, Daryl Gates, and opened the door to widespread police reform in the city and beyond.

But King struggled with the expectations freighted upon him, with addictions, legal problems and financial woes, with the name that transcended the man himself and the ragged reality he lived.

Early Sunday morning, at age 47, King was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool in Rialto. Authorities say there was no evidence of foul play and are investigating his death as an accidental drowning.

King’s fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, discovered him around 5 in the morning, authorities said. She told investigators that she had been talking to him intermittently through a sliding glass door. At some point she heard a splash, and ran out to find King submerged at the deep end.

Kelley said she could not swim well, so she called 911. When police pulled King out of the water, King showed no signs of life.

From the beginning, King had faltered in his role as a symbol and was tormented by his failings. His stuttering plea for everyone to “get along” during the riots was praised for its earnest intent, yet ridiculed as feckless and naive in relation to such searing, deep-seated anger.

“I never went to school to be ‘Rodney King,’” he told The Times two months ago on the 20th anniversary of the riots.

He didn’t even use that name much his family called him by his middle name, Glen.

But whatever the transgressions of his life, he caused, however inadvertently, profound change.

“Rodney King has a unique spot in both the history of Los Angeles and the LAPD,” Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. “What happened on that cool March night over two decades ago forever changed me and the organization I love. His legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence wrought on this city and its Police Department.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said King’s life exposed the nation to racial profiling and police brutality.

“We thank God for the use of Rodney King’s life to lift us to a higher degree of consciousness. Let the burden upon the living be to continue the struggle so that the days of racial injustice will end. Let us answer Rodney’s pressing question: Yes, we all can get along.”

King’s family moved from Sacramento to the foothills of Altadena when he was 2. His parents cleaned offices for a living. His father, Ronald, was a hard-fisted drinker who took his anger out on his son. The boy began drinking in junior high school and often got into trouble with authorities.

I sometimes feel like I’m caught in a vise. Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it.

In 1989, King was accused of attacking the owner of a market in Monterey Park with a tire iron. He pleaded guilty to robbery and received a two-year sentence.

He had just been released when the California Highway Patrol clocked him going west on the 210 Freeway on March 3, 1991, at speeds over 100 mph. It was just after midnight. He saw the flashing lights in his mirror and raced to get away. He had been drinking with friends and knew he’d be back in custody for violating his parole if he was caught. Los Angeles officers quickly joined the pursuit. He stopped eight miles later on a darkened stretch of Foothill Boulevard.

His two friends obeyed orders and got out of the car without incident. King delayed, then got out and acted erratically. He did a little dance, waved to a helicopter whirring overhead and blew a kiss. The cops later said they thought he was on PCP, though he was not.

What happened next was debated and analyzed in granular detail in courts, investigative panels and living rooms for years to come. LAPD officers swarmed King, shot him with Tasers and rained some 50 blows upon him with batons and boots.

A resident named George Holliday caught the beating on videotape, which showed King facedown as he was struck repeatedly by three officers as others stood by watching. Holliday gave the 81-second tape to KTLA, then CNN replayed it the next day, causing a national uproar. The officers involved wrote reports suggesting that the video did not depict the entire confrontation, saying that King rushed at them, swinging and kicking.

The four — Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno, Timothy E. Wind and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon — were indicted for the beating on March 15 by a grand jury.

An independent investigative panel led by Warren Christopher simultaneously looked into the issue of brutality by the Los Angeles police. In July, the Christopher Commission released a blistering report, saying “too many patrol officers view citizens with resentment and hostility” and that the problem of “excessive force” was a problem of leadership from the top down. It pushed for sweeping changes, overhaul of the department’s disciplinary system and a shift toward community policing. More pointedly, it called for the combative and militaristic chief to step down.

Gates refused, calling the beating an aberration. Tensions rose throughout the city as the officers’ trial approached in Simi Valley. When all four were acquitted on Wednesday, April 29, 1992, by a jury with no black people on it, the response in the streets was immediate.

A crowd of black men gathered at Florence and Normandie avenues. Police arrived to disperse them, but they were outnumbered and backed off. Gang members pulled a gravel truck driver named Reginald Denny from his cab and viciously assaulted him for 20 minutes before bystanders rescued him as news choppers filmed from above. Smaller groups formed downtown.

By the end of the night, rioters touched off more than 150 fires, stormed police headquarters and ransacked numerous downtown buildings as sporadic gunfire rang through the streets. Mayor Tom Bradley ordered a curfew, and Gov. Pete Wilson called in the National Guard.

Gates was attending a Brentwood fundraiser to defeat a police-reform ballot measure when the rioting started. Several hours passed before he returned to take charge, and by then his officers were in retreat.

The insurrection and looting spread throughout the city over the next few days. Whole blocks of South Los Angeles burned to the ground. Stores were gutted. Military convoys rumbled up and down the smoky streets.

King made his famous plea before the television cameras on Friday, looking like a terrified child groping for what to say. “Can we all get along? Can we … can we … get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids. I mean, we’ve got enough smog in Los Angeles, let alone to deal with setting these fires and things. It’s not right. It’s not right. It’s not going to change anything.”

With the help of 5,700 National Guard troops, federal agents and Marines, police put the riot down after three days. At least 54 people were dead, and property damage amounted to $1 billion.

The next year, the four officers were tried in federal court for violating King’s civil rights. Koon and Powell were convicted and did prison time. Gates stepped down in June. Under heavy pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, the police reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission gradually took effect.

King sued the city and won $3.8 million in damages. He told The Times that after his legal fees, he had $1.6 million or so, with which he bought a house for his mother and one for him. He started a hip-hop label that didn’t go anywhere.

He could never find stability in his life. He entered rehab in 1993 after crashing into a wall while drunk. Two years later, he did 90 days in jail after being charged with a hit-and-run for knocking his wife down with his car. He got hooked on PCP for a spell, was shot by pellets riding his bike and had so many encounters with police that in interviews he couldn’t recall them all.

“There was the time my car went off the road and came to a stop on a tree,” he told The Times in April. “PCP ain’t no joke.”

His money dwindling, he bought a fixer-upper in Rialto and struggled to make the mortgage payments. He put a tarp along the back fence to keep people from trying to catch a glimpse of an icon. He earned small paydays doing celebrity boxing matches or pouring concrete at construction sites. But even those odd jobs were hard to get.

He recounted how one employer laughed and said, “Get out of here — too high-profile.”

In 2008, he briefly re-entered the public light when he signed to appear in the TV show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” He then faded away again.

Then this year, the 20th anniversary of the riots, reporters were calling and knocking at his door for interviews, and his book, “The Riot Within,” was published.

He seemed a man still deeply haunted by the past and the expectations of him. He said he suffered nightmares and flashbacks from the beating. He smoked marijuana and drank. He was always trying to calm his raw nerves, swimming in his pool, fishing in a nearby lake with worms he dug from his yard. The water had always been a refuge for him.

“I sometimes feel like I’m caught in a vise,” he said. “Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I’m a fool for believing in peace.”

He was more contemplative than he had been before. And the man who just wanted to escape to that park his father took him to was beginning to accept his broader legacy.

“Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn’t, but that’s not true. It changed things. It made the world a better place.”

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice saw King a few weeks ago at an event.

“I’ve never seen him look less broken. He looked happy, and it looked for the first time like he had really kicked his addiction. I know that police love to talk about the fact that he was a criminal. But he was not a criminal. He was a broken and sick man, but did his best not to hurt people. He had a real streak of decency.

“He could have poured gasoline on the fire. At a time when he could have said something destructive … he said ‘Can we all get along?’ When you think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of guys I know that would have done that.”

Times staff writers Kurt Streeter, Andrew Blankstein, Kate Mather and Matt Stevens contributed to this story.

Rodney King: 'I had to learn to forgive'

R odney King ponders the question in silence while absent-mindedly rubbing the scar on his left hand, a big, black weal that spreads across the knuckles towards his wrist. "No," he says. "It's not painful to relive it. I'm comfortable with my position in American history." Then, the interview barely begun, he appears to correct himself and without warning reaches into his memory's darkest recess. "It was like being raped, stripped of everything, being beaten near to death there on the concrete, on the asphalt. I just knew how it felt to be a slave. I felt like I was in another world."

The words hover, incongruous, because it is a bright afternoon, in a chic restaurant and a jarring change of tone. King gazes at nothing in particular. The moment passes. In a lighter voice, he reverts to his original train of thought. "I know and value what it means to wake up and be alive and to share my story. I'm so blessed to be here and to be able to talk about it." He smiles uncertainly.

"It", of course, refers to the night of 3 March 1991 when four members of the Los Angeles police department surrounded and repeatedly beat the prostrate King by the side of a highway. Fifty-six baton blows and six kicks, it was later established in frame-by-frame analysis. This was before mobile phones with cameras, but from his balcony George Holliday, a plumber woken up by sirens, recorded it all on video camera. He passed the grainy, amateur footage to a local TV network, KTLA, setting in train a series of events that gave King, as he puts it, a position in American history.

This week, two decades later, finishing a risotto and sipping tea on a deserted restaurant terrace in west LA, King insists he is reconciled to the role. In reality, he and the country are both still grappling with it. Too much has happened since – or too little, you could argue – for it to be otherwise. A black man is president but black men are still disproportionately likely to end up jailed. Or, like Trayvon Martin, the teenager gunned down in Florida, dead. "When I see him scream, I hear the same scream I gave on 3-3-91," says King. "It's the scream of death."

The 47-year-old former labourer is an elusive mix. Physically imposing, 6ft 3in and with a powerful torso, he is nonetheless timid and walks with a limp. In his white shirt, snazzy tie and dark trousers he could pass for a businessman, save for the necklace of red and black beads. He made it himself. "It helped pass the time." He makes dramatic declarations and shows flashes of insight and humour amid half-sentences whose meanings shimmer and scatter like fish in cloudy water. Patchy concentration is the result of brain damage from the beating, he says. Decades of alcohol abuse and numerous car accidents have not helped. "Um, where was I?" he asks, losing the thread at one point.

We had been discussing the riots that bear his name. This week is the 20th anniversary of the explosion of rage that destroyed much of Los Angeles and shook the US after a near all-white jury acquitted King's uniformed assailants. Resentment in LA's black community had built for years over poverty, unemployment and police brutality. The acquittals on 29 April 1992 ignited a week-long, apocalyptic bonfire. "I put on my reggae hat with braids so nobody would recognise me and drove into the city to see what was going on," recalls King. "It was just …" the voice trails off, defeated by the magnitude of what happened. By the time the riot ended, 53 people were dead, thousands injured and $1bn worth of property smouldered in what could have passed for Bosnia.

It was partly thanks to King that the rioting did end. On the third day, he made a famous, tearful plea to a forest of microphones: "Can we all get along?" It was a challenge to two centuries of fraught race relations – still resonant in the Obama era – that established King as more than just a victim. Until then, he said, he had felt humiliated. "For a man to beat you so badly, till you're near dead, takes everything from you." He did not get to testify at the officers' trial. "It was like the lawyers wanted all the attention." It all changed, he says, when he intervened during the riots. "When I said 'Let's all get along', that was the start of my redemption right there. All the butterflies came out of my stomach."

The son of a violent, alcoholic father, King drank too much from a young age and had been jailed for threatening a shopkeeper with an iron bar. On the night of the beating, he was drunk at the wheel of his car and speeding. The police officers who cornered him after a dramatic chase said he resisted arrest and appeared dangerous. In a second trial after the riots, two officers, Laurence Powell and Stacey Koon, were convicted of civil rights offences. In a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles, King was awarded $3.8m (£2.3m), offering hope of a new start. Instead, his drinking grew worse, he was convicted of spousal abuse and repeatedly crashed his car, breaking his pelvis and giving him a limp.

The police beating of Rodney King, captured on video tape by George Holliday on 3 March 1991. Photograph: George Holliday/AP

Detailing this grim catalogue King, for a moment, turns mischievous. "When I see a uniform, I still get nervous but you know, when the police [he pronounces this poh-lees] pull me over and see it's me, they get even more nervous. They shake like this" – he trembles a hand. He grins, and this time the smile reaches his eyes.

When not watching television – the Discovery and History channels and cartoons are his favourites – King found himself on it. He participated in a celebrity boxing match and two celebrity rehab programmes, each time claiming victory, only to lapse back into the alcoholism that ruined relationships and turned his Rialto home, on the outskirts of LA, into a tip.

Now he is proclaiming deliverance in a book, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, ghosted by Lawrence Spagnola, which is published to coincide with the anniversary. The last three chapter titles are: A new man Clean and sober Live, learn, love. King, in other words, has finally found peace. "This book is my testimony," he says. "I tell myself time heals. It really does." He places his case, which prompted a clean-up of the LAPD, in a continuum of racial landmarks from the abolition of slavery through to civil rights and Obama's election. "They all built on each other. Action and reaction."

As he sips tea and reflects on those who beat him, a happy ending seems to glimmer. "I had to learn to forgive. I couldn't sleep at night. I got ulcers. I had to let go, to let God deal with it. No one wants to be mad in their own house. I didn't want to be angry my whole life. It takes so much energy out of you to be mean." He relaxes by fishing, a passion imparted by his father. "Dropping that pole in the water and just waiting for that bite … ahh." There is even romance. King is engaged to Cynthia Kelley, a juror from the civil trial.

LA, to an extent, has also been redeemed. Racial tensions have ebbed, crime has tumbled, the police have reformed and there is a growing black middle class. It would be nice to leave it there. But the city, like King, is ambivalent, full of light and shade. Poverty and unemployment still plague a black underclass. Inequalities are widening, not narrowing. Parts of south central LA remain covered in rubble and weeds from the riots.

King himself remains a forlorn figure seemingly trapped by his past, his name and his addiction to alcohol, all, in his mind, inextricably bound. "I still suffer from headaches and nightmares. Flashbacks. I wake up with aches and pains. So, you know, it's nice to have some help." Meaning booze. In his book, he admits to being an alcoholic. In person, he elides the label. "Everyone is different. No one alcoholic is the same. I still drink … but I sip now. I don't drink for the buzz or to get drunk. I drink because I like the taste."

He plays down the self-destructive vortex that cost him family, health and savings: "I made some little childish decisions." Alcohol, he says, draining the tea, fidgety and anxious to wind things up, will not destroy him. "I've quit many times before." The interview ends.

One final question. What would he like to do in the future? King pauses. "Construction maybe. It'd be good to build something solid, you know, something that'll be there for a hundred years." He stands up, extends a handshake and heads out, limping slightly, into an overcast afternoon.

The 1992 LA riots

The 1992 LA riots erupted after four police officers, filmed severely beating black taxi driver Rodney King, were acquitted of assault. They were the worst domestic insurrection in American history. More than 25 years later, police brutality is still a contentious, emotive issue, and this pivotal moment echoes loudly in recent events in the modern United States.

This competition is now closed

Published: June 2, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Here, historian Benjamin Houston investigates…

At around 12.30am on 3 March 1991, Los Angeles police began pursuit of a white Hyundai car that was being driven erratically. After a 10-minute chase, the driver pulled over at the junction of Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard. Officers Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind were first responders, soon joined by Theodore Briseno and two others. In total, at least 23 police officers from various jurisdictions were involved in the pursuit and subsequent action, while a helicopter watched from above.

In keeping with standard procedure – a continual source of fury for African-American people and other minorities detained by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) – the two passengers were ordered out of the car, instructed to avert their eyes from the scene, handcuffed and guarded at gunpoint.

When the focus turned to the driver, Rodney King, the scene should have been more comical than dangerous. King had been drinking Olde English 800 malt liquor (a strong beer) with his friends, and his blood-alcohol level was twice the permitted limit for driving. In trying to get out of his car, King momentarily fumbled with the automatic seatbelt before exiting and positioning himself spread-eagled against his vehicle, as if to be searched. The problem was that the police were demanding instead that he got on his knees, with his hands raised. Once King understood them, he apparently responded with a little dance and by shaking his backside like a dog – though whether that was intentional, or merely alcohol-induced swaying, is unclear.

Despite having back-up from almost two dozen officers, the supervising officer, Sergeant Stacey Koon, was alarmed. He saw a large black man – King stood 190cm (six feet three inches) tall and weighed over 100kg – behaving oddly. After King reacted to having his arm twisted as he was handcuffed, Koon made good on his threat to use a taser. King later maintained that, throughout his ordeal, he consistently tried to follow police commands, despite them being contradictory and confusing, and that all his movements were protective rather than aggressive.

He also explained that when he yelled in response to the rough handcuffing, it startled the officers restraining him, and they backed away. Koon, in contrast, interpreted the moment as a superhuman feat in which King threw “800 pounds of officer off of his back”. Koon was convinced, as he later testified, that King’s “disoriented and unbalanced” behaviour indicated he was high on PCP, a hallucinogenic drug known as ‘angel dust’.

At around this time George Holliday, an amateur cameraman, was drawn to his apartment window by the fuss and began videotaping. He remembered hearing one officer yell: “We’re going to kill you, nigger. Run”. Perhaps that was one reason why King did not stay still, despite repeated blows from all angles from Briseno, Powell and Wind, who later testified that they thought King was confronting them or trying to escape.

Regardless, Holliday’s video clearly showed King continuing to move, albeit as a cowering supplicant, backing away from the blows and extending a beseeching hand. Once felled, he sustained more blows as he writhed in pain and tried to dodge the hits. At the trial of the police officers who administered the beating, the defence admitted that they were deliberately trying to break bones in his legs and ankles. Once King was still, Briseno stamped on his neck, and Powell continued using his baton. The beating lasted 81 seconds.

In the police paperwork, King’s wounds are described as “several facial cuts due to contact with asphalt. Of a minor nature. A split upper lip. Suspect oblivious to pain”. This precis is in striking contrast with the final tally observed in video footage, which showed that King sustained at least seven kicks, four taser hits (at 50,000 volts each) and 56 strikes from police batons. After being subdued, King was hog-tied – his hands and feet bound together – and dragged across the asphalt, his own blood and saliva smeared all over him.

He was later diagnosed with nine skull fractures, a concussion, permanent kidney and brain damage, a broken cheekbone, a crushed eye socket, nerve damage and partial paralysis to his facial muscles, and other injuries. Medical experts testified that bones around the sinuses “were reduced to a very fine powder, like sand”. Perhaps more importantly, the concussion also explained some of the contradictory statements King made after his condition stabilised.

Inconsistencies and misinformation

Details that emerged about King seemed to support the view that the police had reason to be wary of him. An unemployed construction worker and taxi driver, he was a convicted felon and, at the time of his arrest, on parole having served a year in jail for robbery. Of course, this was not known to the officers at the time – nor was it relevant. Further misinformation that was produced similarly created false impressions. For example, King was reported as driving at 115 miles per hour. Evidence from later tests, however, suggested that King’s car was incapable of those speeds, that his driving had been merely erratic rather than dangerously fast, and that in fact he had been cautiously weaving through red lights.

More problematic still were the abundant inconsistencies in police versions of events. Though the police were supposedly fearful that King was armed, he was not patted down by any officer. And despite the suggestion that King’s behaviour could have been fuelled by PCP, none of the officers requested a drug test. A subsequent medical examination showed alcohol in King’s bloodstream, along with traces of marijuana.

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More damning still was ample evidence revealing the crude terms in which officers discussed the event. A subsequent release of records from internal messaging systems showed that, 20 minutes before the chase began, Powell had investigated a domestic dispute between an African-American couple, which he described as something “right out of Gorillas in the Mist”. After the King beating, Koon messaged to his station that “You just had a big time use of force… tased and beat the suspect of CHP [California Highway Patrol] pursuit, Big Time”. The response was: “Oh well… I’m sure the lizard didn’t deserve it”.

Powell also took King to the police station rather than the hospital, as if to parade his trophy as he re-enacted the encounter in front of fellow officers. King slumped in the back of the car as Wind filled out paperwork. Later, at the hospital, Powell continued the stand-up routine with baseball metaphors, joking around that “We played a little hardball” and “we hit a few home runs”.

“An aberration”

On 4 March, Holliday rang the local police station, identifying himself as a witness to the King arrest. He was told: “Mind your own fucking business and don’t interfere with a police investigation”. Accordingly, he opted instead to sell the tape to television station KTLA for $500. Later picked up by CNN, the film soon went viral. The immediate effect of the recording, beyond nearly unanimous outrage and condemnation, was that charges against King were dropped, and formal investigations of the officers were launched. Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates was a notable exception to voices of opprobrium, calling the beating “an aberration”. (He also responded to complaints about choke-hold deaths by claiming that “in some blacks, when a [restraint] is applied, the veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal people”.)

During the 20th century, Los Angeles’ sunny, palm-tree-shaded environs had beckoned African-American and white people alike as the city became more industrialised and witnessed a land boom. Despite being locked into the service sector as a result of job discrimination, black people were able to buy homes here – a big draw for them. As the influx of African-American migrants continued, however, white neighbourhood boundaries stiffened in response. The use of restrictive covenants, enforced by the LAPD, banning the sale of houses to African-American people kept certain areas lily-white, barricaded by streets and interstates, even as other white people fled for the suburbs.

The result was that a number of black neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct character, became melded into one: South Central. Increasingly Latino as much as black, heterogeneous but hyper-segregated South Central was isolated geographically and economically. It also suffered the most as the LA economy reeled from the closure of the state aerospace industry, the relocation of several automotive plants and an overall reduction in military spending in the area after the end of the Cold War.

Those factors were exacerbated by state and local policies. The administration of Ronald Reagan, US president from 1981 to 1989, had cut a number of social services, including job training programmes. One study suggested that, between 1969 and 1989, South Central’s poverty rate had increased by 50 per cent.

“Not guilty”

That context underscores the crucial factor in the subsequent trial of the police officers involved in the King beating: the relocation of court proceedings to Simi Valley, a leafy, solidly middle-class suburb north-west of Los Angeles. Not only were the location’s demographics not comparable to LA – it was 66 per cent white and only 2 per cent African-American – but the neighbourhood was a popular residence for police officers. Accordingly, the people ultimately chosen for the trial jury (which comprised ten white people, one Latina and an Asian American) professed pro-police attitudes during their selection.

At the trial, in which the officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force, the defence attorneys made an unusual tactical choice: rather than shunning or discrediting the video of King’s arrest and beating, they embraced it. They showed it repeatedly to the jury in hope of numbing the effect. They dissected it second-by-second with experts, trying to show how each micro-event led to the following, and thus construed an argument that each blow responded to King’s actions. (They also had a fuller version of the video, the excerpt circulated by the media having been edited down.)

At 3.15pm on 29 April 1992, the jury delivered a verdict of ‘not guilty’. A count of excessive force against Powell resulted in a hung jury, but that was later deemed a mistrial. One juror, speaking for his colleagues, was quoted as being convinced that “Mr King was in full control of the whole situation at all times. He was not writhing in pain”.

At the time of King’s arrest, resentment was already in the air thanks to two powerfully symbolic events. One was the March 1991 murder of a 15-year-old black girl, honour-roll student Latasha Harlins, by Korean shopkeeper Soon Ja Du. The trigger was an argument over the purchase of orange juice at the store, which prompted the assailant to pull the trigger as the girl left. Soon Ja Du’s sentence included a $500 fine, probation and 400 hours of community service. (Five days later, many noted another case in which a man was jailed for a month after beating a dog.) Meanwhile, in nearby Long Beach, videotape captured a black off-duty officer being pushed through a window during a ‘routine’ traffic stop. The subsequent trial, during the same month as the King beating, ultimately ended in a hung jury.

The impact of these specific events fuelled smouldering anger about police treatment of minorities. Between 1986 and 1990 alone, the city of LA had spent 20 million dollars in costs associated with more than 300 police brutality cases. An example of a LAPD-style show of force was Operation Hammer, a 1988 gang crackdown during which, in just one night, 1,453 youths were detained in jail and then released without explanation.

All told, there was a potent climate of rage when the King verdict arrived. At the courthouse, palpable anger manifested immediately: shouting and fistfights erupted, while attorneys and defendants pushed their way out. One African-American woman told a reporter: “You go through the system, and it screws you”. Another battleground was the Parker Center, at that time the LAPD headquarters, where increasingly emboldened protesters began overturning police cars and spraying graffiti while chanting “no justice, no peace”. One reporter juxtaposed the somewhat hollow exhortations of a hastily convened rally at the First African Methodist Episcopal with a small television simultaneously showing the flames engulfing parts of the city.

In response, the police department did nothing, waiting for cues from a demoralised political leadership and presumably willing to let the neighbourhoods they policed burn. Ground zero was the corner of Florence and Normandie boulevards, where African-American people attacked cars with rocks and sticks – actions that soon escalated, with drivers dragged from their vehicles and beaten. The televised savagery against Reginald Denny, a white truck driver with no knowledge of the trial’s verdict who was carrying gravel through the area, was another shock to the wider public, and an example that evoked uncomfortable parallels with Rodney King. Denny was beaten by several assailants with a brick, tyre iron and fire extinguisher before being rescued by a black bystander. He suffered lasting effects from the assault.

Over the next four days the destruction continued. More than 50 people died, and the cost of property damage approached one billion dollars. Areas such as Koreatown and Hollywood saw clashes extend even longer, mostly in the form of looting and arson. Sometimes the fury seemed wanton: a Salvadoran neighbourhood looted, an apartment building burned, corner-store windows smashed. In other instances, there were hints that rioters were calibrating their acts: most of the businesses torched were chainstores of national corporations, for example. One bystander explained that “they’re overpriced, and they are the white man’s businesses,” and that the rioters were “hitting the insurance companies, which are the white man’s, too”.

As the insurrection continued, the composition of those rioting became increasingly Latino more than 1,000 would be reported to immigration services after the chaos quieted. Korean-American people were particularly targeted: some 2,300 businesses were ravaged, with an estimated business loss of $400 million. This, too, spoke to lingering resentments: such immigrants were regarded by some in LA as profiting at the expense of inner-city residents.

“Can we all get along?”

During the rest of May and into the summer, as the turmoil began to ebb and the National Guard clamped down, fallout from the affair was dramatic. Unrest flared in Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and San Francisco. Calls for Daryl Gates’s resignation caused political controversy for months before he finally stepped down in June 1992. Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American former policeman, in office since 1973, chose not to run for re-election in light of poor ratings from voters. Several investigative commissions issued reports highly critical of the ingrained racism conspicuous in the LAPD.

In August 1992, the four men who had beaten King were charged with violating his civil rights. A year later, Powell and Koon were found guilty, but further outrage resulted when the judge, John G Davies, shrank the sentence to 30 months in prison – well short of federal guidelines. The fact that each of the defendants had prior suspensions for beating suspects, and in one case lying about it in formal paperwork, was not admitted into court.

Subsequently, undercurrents of tension persisted, whether voiced or not. The LAPD, under new leadership, embraced a different model of ‘community policing’ in an attempt to heal the wounds, instituting new techniques for citizen engagement and use of force. Federal and private-sector initiatives to rebuild the area, announced with fanfare, mostly fizzled out, though pockets of entrepreneurship, often led by Latino immigrants, could be seen in South Central. But the sense of divide persisted. As one white citizen explained, the riot changed his perspective: “Yesterday I would have found [the officers] guilty. Today, I probably wouldn’t”.

And what of the man thrust into the spotlight in this incendiary moment in history? Rodney King continued to struggle with his demons, even as he wrote a memoir that made a case for forgiveness and appeared on reality TV shows. His famous words “Can we all get along?”, calling for calm during the third day of the riot, became variously a pop culture reference, a bitterly sardonic statement and a phrase of poignant simplicity for different Americans. He wrestled with addiction for the rest of his life and had several other brushes with law enforcement. On 17 June 2012 he was found drowned at the bottom of his swimming pool. A potent cocktail of drugs and alcohol had triggered cardiac arrest.

Whatever else may be said about this incident in US history, it is impossible to claim that the outpouring of rage came as a surprise. Similar ‘discoveries’ of outright hatred for police were found in post-mortems of other domestic disturbances of the era, and subsequently ignored. What this particular instance of a ‘multi-ethnic riot’ underscored was the racial dimension of police brutality. The Latino and Asian dimensions of the riots also indicated that the plight of minority neighbourhoods is not exclusively a black/white issue. Nor should the way in which racial repercussions blur quickly into issues of class go unrecognised.

It is, in my opinion, especially wrong to relegate King’s legacy to just a story of a corrupt police department, noxious as daily practices in the LAPD were. The appalling litany of people murdered in acts of police brutality should underline that emphatically. What King’s case showed, among other things, is a pattern that holds true today: a complete disjuncture between inner-city neighbourhoods such as South Central and suburbs such as Simi Valley. In the former, minorities are constrained from opportunities in jobs and education as the economic bases of urban areas shift. Their neighbourhoods are starved by a lack of resources that are instead siphoned to suburban areas, their communities targeted with punitive and biased drug enforcement for the benefit of mass incarceration initiatives that both disenfranchise and profit from them.

The barricades between those two worlds are shored up in part by police officers, helped by the valourising notion that they maintain a ‘thin blue line’ keeping – as one attorney in the King case put it – “law-abiding citizens from the jungle”. There is a direct connection between Koon’s testimony about King’s “hulk-like strength” and the words of white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, recalling why, in 2014, he shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown, who looked like “a demon” and “was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him”. No matter the police department or city or African-American victim – indeed, no matter the era of African-American history – that story remains the same.

Benjamin Houston is senior lecturer in modern US history at Newcastle University

5 ways the Rodney King beating and LA riots changed America

Rodney King died Sunday, 21 years after he first became a household name.

But it was the way that he almost died, in a severe beating by Los Angeles police officers, that made him a reluctant symbol of police brutality and spurred a conversation about race, economics and justice in America. The subsequent riot a year later, after the acquittal and mistrial of the four officers charged in the beating, was the "nation's deadliest urban race riot since the Civil War," according to Lou Cannon in his book "Official Negligence."

What impact did the beating of Rodney King, and the subsequent race riots a year later, have on America?

Here are five ways I have found. Are there other thoughts you have? Please leave them in the comments below.

1) It introduced a reluctant symbol, rather than a selected civil rights hero: The Rev. Al Sharpton called Rodney King "a symbol of civil rights," but in interviews with CNN, King was hesitant to be a symbol, much less a hero. In the past, civil rights icons like Rosa Parks, were carefully selected by leaders. Parks, who famously refused to get out of her seat, and spurred the Montgomery bus boycott, was selected by the NAACP over other women to test civil disobedience laws. King's legacy is still being debated, and he ushered in an era where more everyday citizens became accidental national figures. Amethyst Ross put it this way on CNN's Facebook page: "Rodney was not a civil rights hero. He made very wrong and stupid mistakes. However, I totally disagree with people calling others 'worthless.' Every human being and livings have some worth because they are God's creations. Rodney's situation gave the world a look into police brutality and cover-ups. Subsequently, the world witnessed the riots as a protest of racial inequality. Say what you want . he may have been wasteful, but no one is worthless. He will answer to his Maker for being wasteful of his time, fame, and money. not us."

2) Captured on video by a citizen: King was a reluctant symbol in part because the videotape that thrust him into the limelight came from an unexpected source: a citizen journalist. George Holliday videotaped the footage of Rodney King that was broadcast to the world. Long before smartphones with video cameras, this submission in 1991 was still a novelty to newsrooms, and now common practice.

3) 'The problem of excessive force in American policing is real': After the beating was televised, the Christopher Commission, an independent group, was established to conduct an unprecedented investigation and examination of the Los Angeles Police Department. In the report, the commission notes that 10 police chiefs from large cities met, and concluded that police violence was not unique to Los Angeles.

In "Black in America: The Black Male," CNN's 2008 documentary, Soleded O' Brien pointed out a unique conversation most black parents have with their black sons, regardless of class, is what to do if are ever stopped by police. For decades, the conversation primarily happened within communities of color. But with visceral images of a beaten Rodney King being played on television screens, it became a national conversation.

4) Composition of police department and jurors: In a statement, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck remarked "[Rodney King's] legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence brought on this city and it's police department." Changes in police hires and a focus on the police department’s community relationships became a key result of the Rodney King beating, and the riots. It also elevated the discussion of the racial composition of juries and the location of trials. It was not the first time these considerations were discussed, but the case became a benchmark for teaching best practices both in police departments and jury selection.

5) Race conversation moves beyond black and white: "People, I just want to say, can we all get along?" King's famous utterance became a shorthand for peace after fires and fighting erupted in Los Angeles in 1992. But is also added another layer to discussions about race in America. In Los Angeles, a multi-cultural community, the riots transformed our conversations about race beyond just black and white to include Latinos, and Asian-Americans. An initial analysis after the riots showed that half of the arrests made were of Latino young men. In addition, images of Korean-American store owners armed with guns to protect their businesses, added another element to the conversation about long-held economic challenges and tension within the community. Hyepin Im, the founder and president of Korean Churches for Community Development, was a graduate student at the time and recalled how the Korean community felt a sense of abandonment. It inspired Im to later start KCCD, and ensure Korean-Americans had a voice at the table in future discussions. "The Korean community refuses to dwell in our pain, but will move forward and extend a hand across cultures, and engage civically," she said.

Rodney King

Rodney King was caught by the Los Angeles police after a high-speed chase on March 3, 1991. The officers pulled him out of the car and beat him brutally, while amateur cameraman George Holliday caught it all on videotape. The four L.A.P.D. officers involved were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. However, after a three-month trial, a predominantly white jury acquitted the officers, inflaming citizens and sparking the violent 1992 Los Angeles riots. Two decades after the riots, King told CNN that he had forgiven the officers. King was found dead in his swimming pool on June 17, 2012, in Rialto, California, at the age of 47.

A Look Back at the 1992 Los Angeles (Rodney King) Riots

*If you were old enough to fully process the footage of Rodney King‘s brutal butt-whooping by police in 1992, then you probably also remember the shocking aftermath it caused: the LA Riots.

The video reveals a helpless King, wrestled to the ground, raising his hands in self-defense as several patrol officers kick and flog him violently with their batons.

The beating landed King into a hospital room where he was treated for several broken bones and numerous lacerations to his bloodied face and body. Images of King’s injuries were publicized by the news media to boost ratings and trigger emotions.

King’s assailants – a dozen white patrol officers – should’ve been sentenced to jail for unlawful policing and misconduct. But after they were declared “not guilty” by an undoubtedly biased jury, residents of Los Angeles – where King lived – exploded with rage.

Crowds of angry rioters stormed the city and laid waste to multiple storefronts and public structures.

The riots, which began on April 29, 1992, lasted five days when mainly Black residents of Southern Los Angeles took to the streets not only to protest the King verdict but also years of racial and economic inequality.

“When the verdict came out, it was a stunner for people coast to coast. My jaw dropped,” Jody David Armour, a criminal justice and law professor at the University of Southern California, told NPR.

“There was ocular proof of what happened. It seemed compelling,” he says of the videotape. “And yet, we saw a verdict that told us we couldn’t trust our lying eyes. That what we thought was open and shut was really ‘a reasonable expression of police control’ toward a Black motorist.”

Protesters set fires in the streets, looted stores, destroyed liquor stores, grocery stores, retail shops, and fast-food restaurants. Some motorists — both white and Latino — were targeted and pulled out of their cars and beaten. A white truck driver named Reginald Denny was pulled out of his truck and beaten viciously by rioters. His head had been bashed in with a brick. Two Black bystanders pulled him from the crowd and took him to the hospital, saving his life.

Another contributing factor to the uprising: The same month as King’s beating, a Korean store owner in South Central Los Angeles shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American girl named Latasha Harlins. The store owners had accused her of trying to steal orange juice. “It was later discovered Harlins was clutching money to pay for the juice when she was killed. The store owner received probation and a $500 fine,” NPR reported. This outraged the surrounding Black community.

“It was an open campaign to suppress and contain the Black community,” lawyer and civil rights activist Connie Rice said in an interview with NPR. “LAPD didn’t even feel it was necessary to distinguish between pruning out a suspected criminal where they had probable cause to stop and just stopping African-American judges and senators and prominent athletes and celebrities simply because they were driving nice cars.”

The riots first began at Florence and Normandie, an intersection in South Los Angeles.

On the third day of the riots, King appeared publicly and asked Los Angeles residents to stop rioting. Outside of a Beverly Hills courthouse with his lawyer and asked “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

More than 9,800 National Guard troops were called in, as were more than 1,100 Marines and 600 Army soldiers. From April 30 to May 4, 1992, the city was on a dusk-to-dawn curfew. It was lifted on the morning of May 4 when most schools, banks, and businesses were permitted to reopen.

There were more than 50 riot-related deaths, including 10 people who were shot and killed by LAPD officers and National Guardsmen. “More than 2,000 people were injured, and nearly 6,000 alleged looters and arsonists were arrested,” NPR reported.

More than 12,000 had been arrested, according to Wikipedia. And of those arrested, 36 percent were African-Americans and 51 percent were Latinos, according to the Rand Corp. There was at least $1 billion worth of property destroyed.

“In 1993, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, two of the four officers in the King case, were found guilty of violating King’s civil rights. They both served 30 months in prison and did not return to the police force,” NPR reported.

In 1994, the US District Court in Los Angeles awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages. In his lawsuit, King had demanded $56 million, or $1 million for every blow struck by the officers.

In June 2012, King, then, 47, was discovered unconscious at the bottom of his swimming pool. An autopsy revealed drugs and alcohol were in his system.

EUR Bonus Coverage

Out of the 1992 LA Riots came “Straight From The Streets,” a feature-length documentary film from videographer Keith O’Derek that chronicles some of the most monumental events in American history during the 󈨞s.

“SFTS” features some of the biggest names in hip hop music. Such as Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Ice T, DJ Quik, Kam, Dr. Dre, Lady Of Rage, Tha Dogg Pound, Denzel Washington and many others.

“Straight From The Streets,” available to rent/stream via Vimeo, is as real as it gets and is widely considered to be one of the best rap/hip hop documentary films ever made.

L.A. 1992: How Race Riots Have Shaped America

On April 29th, 1992, riots erupted in Los Angeles following a not-guilty verdict for the police officers who beat Rodney King.

The smoke and billowing flames from South-Central Los Angeles crept as
far north as Hollywood during the Rodney King riots, dubbed by
street-corner pundits the “L.A. slave rebellion of 1992.” An all-white jury in Simi Valley, California, had exonerated four white cops for the brutal beat-down of Rodney King, an unarmed African-American motorist. It had been filmed and seen around the world &ndash most notably in the same Southern Cali hoods that didn’t need a translator to rally behind N.W.A’S “Fuck Tha Police” &ndash yet once again, white authority was given a pass for racially motivated violence. The people took to the streets and began to destroy everything within reach.

Three days later, 55 members of the city’s African-American and Hispanic community were dead, 2,000 seriously injured, 11,000 arrested and a billion dollars-worth of property had been decimated much of that targeted commercial real estate was not white but Asian operated &ndash retribution, some said, for the widely reported shooting in the back and killing of an African American teenager, Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner in 1991. But in truth, this was an anger that had been simmering in the neighborhood &ndash and areas like it &ndash for generations.


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As Martin Luther King once observed, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” By the time Watts Rebellion went down in 1965 &ndash and its Newark and Detroit counterparts in 1967 &ndash the language of the unheard had become understood by embattled African-American communities as an eloquent, incendiary and chaotic tool for folk who’d had enough of second class citizenship, particularly after honorably and heroically serving in every war since that Revolutionary one which established the country’s sovereignty. The racial America we live in today was shaped by the dozens of American cities in which the unheard once again made their seething resentment towards a clueless white American majority manifest on private property after the assassination of King on April 4th, 1968.

The first ‘race riots’ reported in this country were white mobs attacking African Americans, lynching them in public, hanging them from lampposts, shooting and hacking and burning their homes. In New York, Irish-Americans rioted in 1864 to protest being conscripted to fight in the Civil War to protect enslaved Africans, not yet constitutionally protected. In 1921, a thriving, self-sufficient community in Tulsa, Oklahoma &ndash called Black Wall Street for its banking, businesses and commerce &ndash was not only burned to the ground by enviously enraged white neighbors, but also marked the first time an American city was bombed from the air by the U.S. government. In 1947, in the South-Side Chicago neighborhood of Fernwood, whites rioted because a few African-American veterans and their families moved into the neighborhood these un-neighborly caucausoids’ fury took three days and 1,000 cops to extinguish.

The Harlem riot of 1935 has been called “the first modern race riot” not because it was African-Americans rising up against the racist power structure within their city, but because it was targeted at property rather than people &ndash they weren’t trying to kill anybody, but to strike at the heart of capitalism. In 1943, Harlem was once again subjected to destruction by inflamed racial tensions over police violence that same year, African-Americans seeking equal employment were beaten on by white defense industry workers in Mobile, Alabama and Beaumont, Texas.

After these riots, a succession of gubernatorial and presidential commissions made up of “urban experts” &ndash including progressive black thinkers like E. Franklin Frazier and Countee Cullen &ndash blamed toxic relations between African-American communities and white, abusive police forces as the cause of these eruptions by Negro citizenry. Yet history doesn’t seem to show such ensembles of experts were convened after Tulsa or Fernwood, Beaumont or Mobile &ndash but then again, no official explanation has ever been sought for white violence against kidnapped Africans and their descendants over the entire course of the country’s history. Why bother analyzing what’s so easily excused as this implacable, inevitable fact and force of nature &ndash white men and women being driven to genocidal acts of racially incensed annihilation by the sheer sight of unchained, unarmed negroes?

By the time Watts Rebellion went down in 1965 &ndash and its Newark and Detroit counterparts in 1967 &ndash the language of the unheard had become understood by embattled African-American communities as an eloquent, incendiary and chaotic tool for folk who’d had enough of second class citizenship, particularly after honorably and heroically serving in every war since that Revolutionary one which established the country’s sovereignty. The racial America we live in today was shaped by the dozens of American cities in which the unheard once again made their seething resentment towards a clueless white American majority manifest on private property after the assassination of King on April 4th, 1968.

It should be American History 101 that a centuries-deep series of racially motivated disruption, resistance, property incinerating and violence episodically precedes and anticipates prosecutorial failures like what occurred in Los Angeles a quarter century ago. Future reciting of these histories will be greatly abetted by Ezra Edeelman’s 2016 Oscar-winning film O.J.: Made In America, which devotes ample screen time documenting the decades of police abuse that L.A.’s African American community was subjected to before 1992. Not to mention actor Roger Guenveur Smith’s Rodney King, a just-released collaboration with Spike Lee, drawn from his one-man show, re-humanizes King. It zooms in with intimacy, empathy and deeply researched detail on a much-maligned symbol of history, whose life was already a narrative of Greek proportions before his assault by as many as eight LAPD officers 56 times by baton strikes, 6 by kicks, all while gagged, handcuffed, face down in highway dirt.

The racial playing field in America got future-shocked by the juggernaut stampede of unbridled black cultural and political dynamo between 1968 and 1992, and between 1992 and now. Playwright Katori Hall’s work The Mountaintop, which takes place on Martin Luther King’s last night, ends with a kaleidoscoping, warp-driven montage of every spectacular and triumphant act of cultural resistance that emerged from the African-American community to sweep the mainstream far beyond 1968 &ndash from James Brown’s “Say It Loud” to Soul Train to Ali’s Rumble In The Jungle to Flo Jo to Pfunk’s Mothership Connection to Off The Wall to Purple Rain to Run Jesse Run to the lily-white suburban embrace of The Cosby Show and Oprah and that of the three super-powered Michaels &ndash Jackson, Jordan and Tyson &ndash and for The Chronic and beyond to Kanye vs. George Bush amidst the Katrina disaster to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories.

Yet as recent evidence of the unheard freestyling for justice in Ferguson and Baltimore demonstrated, tolerance for state-enabled terror against African-American communities refused to be abated by a two-term President of African descent. Who can count how many more popular spokespersons from the African-American community &ndash rhyming and not &ndash have followed in King’s footsteps and attempted to make plain (per Malcolm X’s preference) the state of things in a still-segregated America?

Black people have developed zero tolerance for watching the state forgive killer after killer of our unarmed folk. We’ve been strangled to death by police, our children shot to death on tape by trigger-happy cops for playing with toy guns, shot in the back while running away at low-speed, shot while handcuffed and face-down on asphalt, shot in their parked vehicles visibly reaching for no weapon while their horrified wives keep filming.

Post-Cosby, post-Oprah, post-Prince, Jordan, M.J. and hip-hop, blackfolk in Los Angeles were the first among us to reckon with the fact that a defenseless black man being beaten senseless by maniac cops generated zero empathy from most white Americans &ndash even after it was endlessly broadcast across the country. Footage provoked blame-the-victim apologias from the white citizen&rsquos council &ndash and Simi Valley jury &ndash for the psychotic, racially motivated rage which the officers near interminably rained down on King. Whatever went unheard in the jury room would come to bite a terrified, pale-skinned America on its ass.

Just three years later, when O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the gruesome murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman after a spectacularly lurid year of televised trial, a majority African-American jury agreed with suave limerick-chiming defense attorney Johnny Cochrane &ndash and most of black America &ndash that the glove alleged to be the killer’s did not fit so they must acquit. Retaliatory disengagement from white woundedness via O.J.’s not-guilty verdict is what it took for the unheard to force their fellow Americans finally grow some compassion, so be it. That wake-up call by vengeful jury verdict was cheerfully, publicly underscored when every-day, not especially militant African-Americans &ndash from the jury box to the beauty parlor to the barbershop to the gridiron &ndash openly and wantonly cheered the pain and horror of their pinkish-hued fellow citizens. If 400 years of vociferous public protesting at being violently disenfranchised and othered by America had failed to humanize our folk, then so fucking be it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin devoted hundreds of pages to spelling out &ndash in language that the cultural elites of white America embraced &ndash how white supremacy produced a form of pervasive moral blindness in the average white American. But no novelistic retelling of riots-past by Ellison, nor book-length prophecies of the next fire by Baldwin, has yet mitigated the need for a Black Lives Matter movement or its calls for not just police but prosecutorial reform and the abolition of the secret grand jury system &ndash errantly imported to America from England’s last days of recognizing the divine rights of kings.

One can’t not look at recent roll call of New York Times Best Sellers, Tonys, Emmys, Grammies, Oscars, MacArthur Awards and international book awards garlanding our best and brightest literati and not wonder whether there&rsquos some orgiastic thrill that white readers derive from descriptions of Black bodies in pain, in trauma, in massacred death. All the grand contributions to American racial letters aren’t going to be enough to the next unarmed, compliant Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland who pops up dead after an encounter with the next deputized &ndash or, in George Zimmerman’s case, self-deputized &ndash psychopath whose exercises his or her anti-black-life rage.

And yet there will be this expectation for our spokespeople to concur when the next lame, tone-deaf but avidly repulsed white-wing commentator response to Black Lives Matter is that white and blue lives matter too. This begs the question of whether white America en masse will ever be capable of acting as if the descendants of the global slave trade, which bankrolled centuries of American Exceptionalism, are actually human, too &ndash or recognize that R their privilege makes them complicit in perpetuating the status quo: unequal treatment before the law.

Years before Ellison, Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange and Toni Morrison, no less than Albert Einstein proved that being white wasn&rsquot the impediment to seeing the nation’s darker brothers and sisters as human. The fault which lies within themselves, Einstein rightly figured, is derived from white Americans being obsessed with maintaining the guilt-free delusion of racial innocence. Heeding Einstein&rsquos words on this score 70 years ago could have spared the nation bucket-loads of terror, blood and handwringing anguish.

The good professors statement is not rocket science, yet it took a literal Einstein to grasp what still escapes many educated white Americans today: “Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force and in the white man&rsquos quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.” And until this is understood and rectified, the unheard will continue to rise up &ndash yesterday in Los Angeles, today in Baltimore and Ferguson and tomorrow, wherever racial-messaging-by-molotov is next provoked.


Police–community relations Edit

Before the release of the Rodney King tape, minority community leaders in Los Angeles had repeatedly complained about harassment and use of excessive force against their residents by LAPD officers. [9] Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from 1978 to 1992, has been attributed with much of the blame for the riots. [10] [11] According to one study, "scandalous racist violence. marked the LAPD under Gates’s tempestuous leadership." [12] Under Gates, the LAPD had begun Operation Hammer in April 1987, which was a large-scale attempt to crack down on gang violence in Los Angeles.

The origin of Operation Hammer can be traced to the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. Under Gates's direction, the LAPD expanded gang sweeps for the duration of the Olympics. These were implemented across wide areas of the city but especially in South Central and East Los Angeles, areas of predominately minority residents. After the games were over, the city began to revive the use of earlier anti-syndicalist laws in order to maintain the security policy started for the Olympic games. The police more frequently conducted mass arrests of African American youth, although the overwhelming number of them were never charged. Citizen complaints against police brutality increased 33 percent in the period 1984 to 1989. [13]

By 1990 more than 50,000 people, mostly minority males, had been arrested in such raids. [14] During this period, the LAPD arrested more young black men and women than at any period of time since the Watts riots of 1965. Critics have alleged that the operation was racist because it used racial profiling, targeting African-American and Mexican American youths. [15] The perception that police had targeted non-White citizens likely contributed to the anger that erupted in the 1992 riots. [16]

The Christopher Commission later concluded that a "significant number" of LAPD officers "repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the department regarding force." The biases related to race, gender, and sexual orientation were found to have regularly contributed to excessive force use. [17] The commission's report called for the replacement of both Chief Daryl Gates and the civilian Police Commission. [17]

Ethnic tensions Edit

In the year before the riots, 1991, there was growing resentment and violence between the African-American and Korean-American communities. [18] Racial tensions had been simmering for years between these groups. In 1989, the release of Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing highlighted urban tensions between White Americans, Black Americans and Korean Americans over racism and economic inequality. [19] Many Korean shopkeepers were upset because they suspected shoplifting from their black customers and neighbors. Many black customers were angry because they routinely felt disrespected and humiliated by Korean store owners. Neither group fully understood the extent or sheer enormity of the cultural differences and language barriers, which further fueled tensions. [20]

On March 16, 1991, a year before the Los Angeles riots, storekeeper Soon Ja Du shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a black ninth-grader after a physical altercation. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and the jury recommended the maximum sentence of 16 years, but the judge, Joyce Karlin, decided against prison time and sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine instead. [21] Relations between the Black- and Korean-American communities significantly worsened after this, and the former became increasingly mistrustful of the criminal justice system. [22] A state appeals court later unanimously upheld Judge Karlin's sentencing decision in April 1992, a week before the riots. [23]

The Los Angeles Times reported on several other significant incidents of violence between the communities at the time:

Other recent incidents include the May 25, [1991] shooting of two employees in a liquor store near 35th Street and Central Avenue. The victims, both recent emigrants from Korea, were killed after complying with robbery demands made by an assailant described by police as an African-American. Last Thursday, an African-American man suspected of committing a robbery in an auto parts store on Manchester Avenue was fatally wounded by his accomplice, who accidentally fired a shotgun round during a struggle with the shop's Korean-American owner. "This violence is disturbing, too," store owner Park said. "But who cries for these victims? [24]

Rodney King incident Edit

On the evening of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers were driving west on the Foothill Freeway (I-210) through the Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. [25] The California Highway Patrol (CHP) attempted to initiate a traffic stop and a high-speed pursuit ensued with speeds estimated at up to 115 mph (185 km/h), before King eventually exited the freeway at Foothill Boulevard. The pursuit continued through residential neighborhoods of Lake View Terrace in San Fernando Valley before King stopped in front of the Hanson Dam recreation center. When King finally stopped, LAPD and CHP officers surrounded King's vehicle and married CHP officers Timothy and Melanie Singer arrested him and two other car occupants. [26]

After the two passengers were placed in the patrol car, five Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers – Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano – surrounded King, who came out of the car last. The officers involved were all White American, although Briseno and Solano were of Hispanic origin. [27] They tasered him, struck him dozens of times with side-handled batons, kick stomped him in his back and tackled him to the ground before handcuffing him and hogtying his legs. Sergeant Koon later testified at trial that King resisted arrest and believed King was under the influence of PCP at the time of the arrest caused him to be very aggressive and violent toward the officers. [28] Video footage of the arrest showed that King attempted to get up each time he was struck and that the police made no attempt to cuff him until he lay still. [29] A subsequent test of King for the presence of PCP in his body at the time of the arrest was negative. [30]

Unbeknownst to the police and King, the incident was captured on a camcorder by local civilian George Holliday from his nearby apartment across from Hansen Dam. The tape was roughly 12 minutes long. While the tape was presented during the trial, some clips of the incident were not released to the public. [31] In a later interview, King, who was on parole for a robbery conviction and had past convictions for assault, battery and robbery, [32] [33] said that he had not surrendered earlier because he was driving while intoxicated under the influence of alcohol, which he knew violated the terms of his parole.

The footage of King being beaten by police became an instant focus of media attention and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States. Coverage was extensive during the first two weeks after the incident: the Los Angeles Times published 43 articles about it, [34] The New York Times published 17 articles, [35] and the Chicago Tribune published 11 articles. [36] Eight stories appeared on ABC News, including a sixty-minute special on Primetime Live. [37]

Upon watching the tape of the beating, LAPD chief of police Daryl Gates said:

I stared at the screen in disbelief. I played the one-minute-50-second tape again. Then again and again, until I had viewed it 25 times. And still I could not believe what I was looking at. To see my officers engage in what appeared to be excessive use of force, possibly criminally excessive, to see them beat a man with their batons 56 times, to see a sergeant on the scene who did nothing to seize control, was something I never dreamed I would witness. [38]

Charges and trial Edit

The Los Angeles County District Attorney subsequently charged four police officers, including one sergeant, with assault and use of excessive force. [39] Due to the extensive media coverage of the arrest, the trial received a change of venue from Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County. [40] The jury had no members who were entirely African-American. [41] The jury was composed of nine white Americans (three women, six men), one bi-racial man, [42] one Latin American woman, and one Asian-American woman. [43] The prosecutor, Terry White, was African-American. [44] [45]

On April 29, 1992, the seventh day of jury deliberations, the jury acquitted all four officers of assault and acquitted three of the four of using excessive force. The jury could not agree on a verdict for the fourth officer charged with using excessive force. [43] The verdicts were based in part on the first three seconds of a blurry, 13-second segment of the videotape that, according to journalist Lou Cannon, had not been aired by television news stations in their broadcasts. [46] [47]

The first two seconds of videotape, [48] contrary to the claims made by the accused officers, show King attempting to flee past Laurence Powell. During the next one minute and 19 seconds, King is beaten continuously by the officers. The officers testified that they tried to restrain King before the videotape's starting point physically, but King could throw them off physically. [49]

Afterward, the prosecution suggested that the jurors may have acquitted the officers because of becoming desensitized to the beating's violence, as the defense played the videotape repeatedly in slow motion, breaking it down until its emotional impact was lost. [50]

Outside the Simi Valley courthouse where the acquittals were delivered, county sheriff's deputies protected Stacey Koon from angry protesters on the way to his car. Movie director John Singleton, who was in the crowd at the courthouse, predicted, "By having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb." [51]

The riots began the day the verdicts were announced and peaked in intensity over the next two days. A dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployment by California National Guardsmen, U.S. troops, and Federal law enforcement personnel eventually controlled the situation. [52]

A total of 64 people died during the riots, including nine shot by law enforcement personnel and one by National Guardsmen. [53] Of those killed during the riots, 2 were Asian, 28 were Black, 19 were Latino, and 15 were White. No law enforcement officials died during the riots. [54] As many as 2,383 people were reported injured. [55] Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion. [56] Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Widespread looting also occurred. Rioters targeted stores owned by Koreans and other ethnic Asians, reflecting tensions between them and the African-American communities. [57]

Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, where the population was majority African-American and Hispanic. Fewer than half of all the riot arrests and a third of those killed during the violence were Hispanic. [58] [59]

Day 1 – Wednesday, April 29 Edit

Prior to the verdicts Edit

In the week before the Rodney King verdicts were reached, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates set aside $1 million for possible police overtime. Even so, on the last day of the trial, two-thirds of the LAPD's patrol captains were out of town in Ventura, California, on the first day of a three-day training seminar. [60]

At 1 p.m. on April 29, Judge Stanley Weisberg announced that the jury had reached its verdict, which would be read in two hours' time. This was done to allow reporters and police and other emergency responders to prepare for the outcome, as unrest was feared if the officers were acquitted. [60] The LAPD had activated its Emergency Operations Center, which the Webster Commission described as "the doors were opened, the lights turned on and the coffee pot plugged in", but taken no other preparatory action. Specifically, the people intended to staff that Center were not gathered until 4:45 p.m. In addition, no action was taken to retain extra personnel at the LAPD's shift change at 3 p.m., as the risk of trouble was deemed low. [60]

Verdicts announced Edit

The acquittals of the four accused Los Angeles Police Department officers came at 3:15 p.m. local time. By 3:45 p.m., a crowd of more than 300 people had appeared at the Los Angeles County Courthouse protesting the verdicts.

Meanwhile, at approximately 4:15–4:20 p.m., a group of people approached the Pay-Less Liquor and Deli on Florence Avenue just west of Normandie in South Central. In an interview, a member of the group said that the group "just decided they weren't going to pay for what they were getting." The store owner's son was hit with a bottle of beer, and two other youths smashed the store's glass front door. Two officers from the 77th Street Division of the LAPD responded to this incident and, finding that the instigators had already left, completed a report. [61] [62]

Mayor Bradley speaks Edit

At 4:58 p.m., [63] Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley held a news conference to discuss the verdicts. He both expressed anger about the verdicts and appealed for calm. [50]

"Today, this jury told the world that what we all saw with our own eyes wasn't a crime. Today, that jury asked us to accept the senseless and brutal beating of a helpless man. Today, that jury said we should tolerate such conduct by those sworn to protect and serve. My friends, I am here to tell this jury, "No. No, our eyes did not deceive us. We saw what we saw what we saw was a crime. We must not endanger the reforms we have achieved by resorting to mindless acts. We must not push back progress by striking back blindly."

Assistant Los Angeles police chief Bob Vernon later said he believed Bradley's remarks incited a riot and were perhaps taken as a signal by some citizens. Vernon said that the number of police incidents rose in the hour after the mayor's press conference. [50]

Police intervention at 71st and Normandie Edit

At Florence and Halldale, two officers issued a plea for assistance in apprehending a young suspect who had thrown an object at their car and whom they were pursuing on foot. [64] Approximately two dozen officers, commanded by 77th Street Division LAPD officer Lieutenant Michael Moulin, arrived and arrested the youth, 16-year old Seandel Daniels, forcing him into the back of a car. The rough handling of the young man, a well known minor in the community, further agitated an uneasy and growing crowd, who began taunting and berating the police. [65] Among the crowd were Bart Bartholomew, a white freelance photographer for The New York Times, and Timothy Goldman, a black U.S. Air Force veteran in visit to his family, [66] [67] who began to record the events with his personal camcorder. [68] [66]

The police formed a perimeter around the arresting officers as the crowd grew more hostile, leading to further altercations and arrests (including that of Damian Williams' older brother, Mark Jackson). One member of the crowd stole the flashlight of an LAPD officer. Fearing police would resort to deadly force to repel the growing crowd, Lieutenant Moulin ordered officers out of the area altogether. Moulin later said that officers on the scene were outnumbered and unprepared to handle the situation because their riot equipment was stored at the police academy. [ citation needed ]

Hey, forget the flashlight, it's not worth it. It ain't worth it. It's not worth it. Forget the flashlight. Not worth it. Let's go.

Moulin made the call for reporting officers to retreat from the 71st and Normandie area entirely at approximately 5:50 p.m. [8] [61] They were sent to an RTD bus depot at 54th and Arlington [70] and told to await further instructions. The command post formed at this location was set up at approximately 6 p.m., but had no cell phones or computers other than those in squad cars. It had insufficient numbers of telephone lines and handheld police radios to assess and respond to the situation. [70] Finally, the site had no televisions, which meant that as live broadcasts of unrest began, command post officers could not see any of the coverage. [71]

Unrest moves at Florence and Normandie Edit

After the retreat of officers at 71st and Normandie, many proceeded one block south to the intersection of Florence and Normandie. [72] As the crowd began to turn physically dangerous, Bartholomew managed to flee the scene with the help of Goldman. Someone hit Bartholomew with a wood plank, shattering his jaw, while others pounded him and grabbed his camera. [66] Just after 6 p.m., a group of young men broke the padlock and windows to Tom's Liquor, allowing a group of more than 100 people to raid the store and loot it. [73] Concurrently, the growing number of rioters in the street began attacking civilians of non-black appearance, throwing debris at their cars, pulling them from their vehicles when they stopped, smashing window shops, or assaulting them while they walked on the sidewalks. As Goldman continued to film the scene on the ground with his camcorder, the Los Angeles News Service team of Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur arrived in a news helicopter, broadcasting from the air. The LANS feed appeared live on numerous Los Angeles television venues. [74]

At approximately 6:15 p.m., as reports of vandalism, looting, and physical attacks continued to come in, Moulin elected to "take the information" but not respond personnel to restore order or rescue people in the area. [64] Moulin was relieved by a captain, ordered only to assess the Florence and Normandie area, and, again, not to attempt to deploy officers there. [75] Meanwhile, Tur continued to cover the events in progress live at the intersection. From overhead, Tur described the police presence at the scene around 6:30 p.m. as "none". [76]

Attack on Larry Tarvin Edit

At 6:43 p.m., a white truck driver, Larry Tarvin, drove down Florence and stopped at a red light at Normandie in a large white delivery truck. With no radio in his truck, he did not know that he was driving into a riot. [77] Tarvin was pulled from the vehicle by a group of men including Henry Watson, who proceeded to kick and beat him, before striking him unconscious with a fire extinguisher taken from his own vehicle. [78] He lay unconscious for more than a minute [79] as his truck was looted, before getting up and staggering back to his vehicle. With the help of an unknown African-American, Tarvin drove his truck out of further harm's way. [77] [71] Just before he did so, another truck, driven by Reginald Denny, entered the intersection. [77] United Press International Radio Network reporter Bob Brill, who was filming the attack on Tarvin, was hit in the head with a bottle and stomped on. [80]

Attack on Reginald Denny Edit

Reginald Denny, a white construction truck driver, was pulled from his truck and severely beaten by a group of black men who came to be known as the "L.A. Four". The attack was recorded on video from Tur's and Gerrard's news helicopter, and broadcast live on U.S. national television. Goldman captured the end of the attack and a close-up of Denny's bloody face. [81]

Four other L.A. residents came to Denny's aid, placing him back in his truck, in which one of the rescuers drove him to the hospital. Denny suffered a fractured skull and impairment of his speech and ability to walk, for which he underwent years of rehabilitative therapy. After unsuccessfully suing the City of Los Angeles, Denny moved to Arizona, where he worked as an independent boat mechanic and has mostly avoided media contact.

Attack on Fidel Lopez Edit

Around 7:40 p.m., almost an hour after Denny was rescued, another beating was filmed on videotape in that location. Fidel Lopez, a self-employed construction worker and Guatemalan immigrant mistaken by the crowd to be White American, was pulled from his GMC pickup truck and robbed of nearly $2,000. Rioters, including Damian Williams, smashed his forehead open with a car stereo [82] and one tried to slice his ear off. [83] After Lopez lost consciousness, the crowd spray-painted his chest, torso, and genitals black. [84] He was eventually rescued by black Reverend Bennie Newton, who told the rioters: "Kill him, and you have to kill me too." [83] [85] Lopez survived the attack, but it took him years to fully recover and re-establish his business. Newton and Lopez became close friends. [86]

Sunset on the first evening of the riots was at 7:36 p.m. [87] The first call reporting a fire came in soon after, at approximately 7:45 p.m. [88] Police did not return in force to Florence and Normandie until 8:30 p.m., [62] by which time the intersection was in ruins and most rioters had left to other nearby intersections and shopping centers in the area, [ citation needed ] with rioting and looting spreading across the rest of South Central Los Angeles once word spread of the situation at Florence and Normandie, as by nightfall the neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Hyde Park, Jefferson Park, West Adams, Westmont, Green Meadows, Historic South Central, Florence, Willowbrook, Florence-Graham and Watts were being looted, vandalized and set ablaze by rioters.

Numerous factors were later blamed for the severity of rioting in the 77th Street Division on the evening of April 29. These included: [71]

  • No effort made to close the busy intersection of Florence and Normandie to traffic.
  • Failure to secure gun stores in the Division (one in particular lost 1,150 guns to looting on April 29).
  • The failure to issue a citywide Tactical Alert until 6:43 p.m., which delayed the arrival of other divisions to assist the 77th.
  • The lack of any response – and in particular, a riot response – to the intersection, which emboldened rioters. Since attacks, looting, and arson were broadcast live, viewers could see that none of these actions were being stopped by police.

Parker Center Edit

As noted, after the verdicts were announced, a crowd of protesters formed at the Los Angeles police headquarters at Parker Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The crowd grew as the afternoon passed, and became violent. The police formed a skirmish line to protect the building, sometimes moving back in the headquarters as protesters advanced, attempting to set the Parker Center ablaze. [89] In the midst of this, before 6:30 p.m., police chief Daryl Gates left Parker Center, on his way to the neighborhood of Brentwood. There, as the situation in Los Angeles deteriorated, Gates attended a political fundraiser against Los Angeles City Charter Amendment F, [89] intended to "give City Hall more power over the police chief and provide more civilian review of officer misconduct". [90] The amendment would limit the power and term length of his office. [91]

The Parker Center crowd grew riotous at approximately 9 p.m., [88] eventually making their way through the Civic Center, attacking law enforcement, overturning vehicles, setting objects ablaze, vandalizing government buildings and blocking traffic on U.S. Route 101 going through other nearby districts in downtown Los Angeles looting and burning stores. Nearby Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) firefighters were shot at while trying to put out a blaze set by looters. The mayor had requested the California Army National Guard from Governor Pete Wilson the first of these units, the 670th Military Police Company, had traveled almost 300 miles (480 km) from its main armory and arrived in the afternoon to assist local police. [92] They were first deployed to a police command center, where they began handing out bulletproof vests to the firefighters after encountering the unit whose member had been shot. Later, after receiving ammunition from the L.A. Police Academy and a local gun store, the MPs deployed to hold the Martin Luther King Shopping Mall in Watts. [93]

Lake View Terrace Edit

In the Lake View Terrace district of Los Angeles, 200 [88] –400 [71] protesters gathered about 9:15 p.m. at the site where Rodney King was beaten in 1991, near the Hansen Dam Recreation Area. The group marched south on Osborne Street to the LAPD Foothill Division headquarters. [88] There they began rock throwing, shooting into the air, and setting fires. The Foothill division police used riot-breaking techniques to disperse the crowd and arrest those responsible for rock throwing and the fires [71] eventually leading to rioting and looting in the neighboring area of Pacoima and its surrounding neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

Day 2 – Thursday, April 30 Edit

Mayor Bradley signed an order for a dusk-to-dawn curfew at 12:15 a.m. for the core area affected by the riots, as well as declaring a state of emergency for city of Los Angeles. At 10:15 a.m., he expanded the area under curfew. [88] By mid-morning, violence appeared widespread and unchecked as extensive looting and arson were witnessed across Los Angeles County. Rioting moved from South Central Los Angeles, going north through Central Los Angeles decimating the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake, Pico-Union, Echo Park, Hancock Park, Fairfax, Mid-City and Mid-Wilshire before reaching Hollywood. The looting and fires engulfed Hollywood Boulevard, and simultaneously rioting moved West and South into the neighboring independent cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena, Compton, Carson and Long Beach, as well as moving East from South Central Los Angeles into the cities of Huntington Park, Walnut Park, South Gate and Lynwood and Paramount. Looting and vandalism had also gone as far South as Los Angeles regions of the Harbor Area in the neighborhoods of San Pedro, Wilmington, and Harbor City.

Destruction of Koreatown Edit

Koreatown is a roughly 2.7 square-mile (7 square kilometre) neighborhood between Hoover Street and Western Avenue, and 3rd Street and Olympic Boulevard, west of MacArthur Park and east of Hancock Park/Windsor Square. [94] Korean immigrants had begun settling in the Mid-Wilshire area in the 1960s after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It was here that many opened successful businesses. [95]

As the riots spread, roads between Koreatown and wealthy white neighborhoods were blocked off by police and official defense lines were set up around the independent cities such as Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, as well as middle-upper class white neighborhoods West of Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. [96] A Korean-American resident later told reporters: "It was containment. The police cut off Koreatown traffic, while we were trapped on the other side without help. Those roads are a gateway to a richer neighborhood. It can't be denied." [97] Some Koreans later said they did not expect law enforcement to come to their aid. [98]

The lack of law enforcement forced Koreatown civilians to organize their own armed security teams, mainly composed of store owners, to defend their businesses from rioters. [99] Many had military experience from serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces before emigrating to the United States. [100] Open gun battles were televised, including an incident in which Korean shopkeepers armed with M1 carbines, Ruger Mini-14s, pump-action shotguns, and handguns exchanged gunfire with a group of armed looters, and forced their retreat. [101] But there were casualties, such as 18-year-old Edward Song Lee, whose body can be seen lying in the street in images taken by photojournalist Hyungwon Kang. [98]

After events in Koreatown, the 670th MP Company from National City, California were redeployed to reinforce police patrols guarding the Korean Cultural Center and the Consulate-General of South Korea in Los Angeles.

Out of the $850 million worth of damage done in L.A., half of it was on Korean-owned businesses because most of Koreatown was looted and destroyed. [102] The effects of the riots, which displaced Korean Americans and destroyed their sources of income, and the little aid given to those who suffered, still affected LA-based Koreans in 2017, as they struggled with economic hardship created by the riots. [98]

Mid-town containment Edit

The LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) organized response began to come together by mid-day. The LAFD and Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) began to respond backed by police escort California Highway Patrol reinforcements were airlifted to the city. U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke out against the rioting, stating that "anarchy" would not be tolerated. The California Army National Guard, which had been advised not to expect civil disturbance and had, as a result, loaned its riot equipment out to other law enforcement agencies, responded quickly by calling up about 2,000 soldiers, but could not get them to the city until nearly 24 hours had passed. They lacked equipment and had to pick it up from the JFTB (Joint Forces Training Base), Los Alamitos, California, which at the time was mainly a mothballed former airbase. [103]

Air traffic control procedures at Los Angeles International Airport were modified, with all departures and arrivals routed to and from the west, over the Pacific Ocean, avoiding overflights of neighborhoods affected by the rioting.

Bill Cosby spoke on the local television station KNBC and asked people to stop the rioting and watch the final episode of his The Cosby Show. [104] [105] [106] The U.S. Justice Department announced it would resume federal investigation of the Rodney King beating as a violation of federal civil rights law. [88]

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who criticized rioters for burning down their own neighborhoods, received death threats and was taken to the Los Angeles Police Academy for protection.

Day 3 – Friday, May 1 Edit

In the early morning hours of Friday, May 1, the major rioting was stopped. [107] Rodney King gave an impromptu news conference in front of his lawyer's office, tearfully saying, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" [108] [109] That morning, at 1:00 am, Governor Wilson had requested federal assistance. Upon request, Bush invoked the Insurrection Act with Executive Order 12804, federalizing the California Army National Guard and authorizing federal troops and federal law enforcement officers to help restore law and order. [110] With Bush's authority, the Pentagon activated Operation Garden Plot, placing the California Army National Guard and federal troops under the newly formed Joint Task Force Los Angeles (JTF-LA). The deployment of federal troops was not ready until Saturday, by which time the rioting and looting were under control.

Meanwhile, the 40th Infantry Division (doubled to 4,000 troops) of the California Army National Guard continued to move into the city in Humvees eventually 10,000 Army National Guard troops were activated. That same day, 1,000 federal tactical officers from different agencies across California were dispatched to L.A. to protect federal facilities and assist local police. This was the first federal law enforcement response to a civil disorder in any U.S. city since the Ole Miss riot of 1962. Later that evening, Bush addressed the country, denouncing "random terror and lawlessness". He summarized his discussions with Mayor Bradley and Governor Wilson, and outlined the federal assistance he was making available to local authorities. Citing the "urgent need to restore order", he warned that the "brutality of a mob" would not be tolerated, and he would "use whatever force is necessary". He referred to the Rodney King case, describing talking to his own grandchildren and noting the actions of "good and decent policemen" as well as civil rights leaders. He said he had directed the Justice Department to investigate the King case, and that "grand jury action is underway today", and justice would prevail. The Post Office announced that it was unsafe for their couriers to deliver mail. The public were instructed to pick up their mail at the main Post Office. The lines were approximately 40 blocks long, and the California National Guard were diverted to that location to ensure peace. [111]

By this point, many entertainment and sports events were postponed or canceled. The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA playoff basketball game on the night the rioting started. The following game was still postponed until Sunday and moved to Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Clippers moved a playoff game against the Utah Jazz to nearby Anaheim. In baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers postponed games for four straight days from Thursday to Sunday, including a whole three-game series against the Montreal Expos all were made up as part of doubleheaders in July. In San Francisco, a city curfew due to unrest forced the postponement of a May 1, San Francisco Giants home game against the Philadelphia Phillies. [112]

The horse racing venues Hollywood Park Racetrack and Los Alamitos Race Course were also shut down. L.A. Fiesta Broadway, a major event in the Latino community, was canceled. In music, Van Halen canceled two concert shows in Inglewood on Saturday and Sunday. Metallica and Guns N' Roses were forced to postpone and relocate their concert to the Rose Bowl as the LA Coliseum and its surrounding neighborhood were still damaged. Michael Bolton canceled his scheduled performance at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday. The World Wrestling Federation canceled events on Friday and Saturday in the cities of Long Beach and Fresno. [113] By the end of Friday night, the riots were completely quelled. [107]

Day 4 – Saturday, May 2 Edit

On the fourth day, 3,500 federal troops — 2,000 soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division from Fort Ord and 1,500 Marines of the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton — arrived to reinforce the National Guardsmen already in the city. The Marine Corps contingent included the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by John F. Kelly. It was the first significant military occupation of Los Angeles by federal troops since the 1894 Pullman Strike, [114] and also the first federal military intervention in an American city to quell a civil disorder since the 1968 King assassination riots, and the first deadliest modern unrest since the 1980 Miami riots at the time, only 12 years earlier.

These federal military forces took 24 hours to deploy to Huntington Park, about the same time it took for the National Guardsmen. [ citation needed ] This brought total troop strength to 13,500, making L.A. the largest military occupation of any U.S. city since the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots. Federal troops joined National Guardsmen to support local police in restoring order directly the combined force contributed significantly to preventing violence. [110] With most of the violence under control, 30,000 people attended an 11 a.m. peace rally in Koreatown to support local merchants and racial healing. [88]

Day 5 – Sunday, May 3 Edit

Mayor Bradley assured the public that the crisis was, more or less, under control as areas became quiet. [115] Later that night, Army National Guardsmen shot and killed a motorist who tried to run them over at a barrier. [116]

In another incident, the LAPD and Marines intervened in a domestic dispute in Compton, in which the suspect held his wife and children hostage. As the officers approached, the suspect fired two shotgun rounds through the door, injuring some of the officers. One of the officers yelled to the Marines, "Cover me," as per law enforcement training to be prepared to fire if necessary. However, per their military training, the Marines interpreted the wording as providing cover by establishing a base of firepower, resulting in a total of 200 rounds being sprayed into the house. Remarkably, neither the suspect nor the woman and children inside the house were harmed. [117]

Aftermath Edit

Although Mayor Bradley lifted the curfew, signaling the riots' official end, sporadic violence and crime continued for a few days afterward. Schools, banks, and businesses reopened. Federal troops did not stand down until May 9. The Army National Guard remained until May 14. Some National Guardsmen remained as late as May 27. [118]

Korean Americans Edit

Many Korean Americans in Los Angeles refer to the event as 'Sa-I-Gu', meaning "four-two-nine" in the Korean language (4.29), in reference to April 29, 1992, which was the day the riots started. Over 2,300 mom-and-pop shops run by Korean business owners were damaged through ransacking and looting during the riots, sustaining close to $400 million in damages. [119]

During the riots, Korean Americans received very little aid or protection from police authorities, due to their low social status and language barriers. [120] Many Koreans rushed to Koreatown after Korean-language radio stations called for volunteers to guard against rioters. Many were armed, with a variety of improvised weapons, handguns, shotguns, and semi-automatic rifles. [121]

David Joo, a gun store manager, said, "I want to make it clear that we didn't open fire first. At that time, four police cars were there. Somebody started to shoot at us. The LAPD ran away in half a second. I never saw such a fast escape. I was pretty disappointed." Carl Rhyu, also a participant in the Koreans' armed response, said, "If it was your own business and your own property, would you be willing to trust it to someone else? We are glad the National Guard is here. They're good backup. But when our shops were burning we called the police every five minutes no response." [122] At a shopping center several miles north of Koreatown, Jay Rhee, who said he and others fired five hundred shots into the ground and air, said, "We have lost our faith in the police. Where were you when we needed you?" Koreatown was isolated from South Central Los Angeles, yet it was the most severely damaged in the riots despite this. [120]

Television coverage of two Korean merchants firing pistols repeatedly at roving looters was widely seen and controversial. The New York Times said: "that the image seemed to speak of race war, and of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands." [122] The merchants were reacting to the shooting of Mr. Park's wife and her sister by looters who had converged on the shopping center where the shops were located. [122]

The riots have been considered a major turning point in the development of a distinct Korean American identity and community. Korean Americans responded in various ways, including the development of new ethnic agendas and organization and increased political activism.

Preparations Edit

One of the largest armed camps in Los Angeles's Koreatown was at the California Market. On the first night after the officers' verdicts were returned, Richard Rhee, the market owner, set up camp in the parking lot with about 20 armed employees. [123] One year after the riots, fewer than one in four damaged or destroyed businesses had reopened, according to the survey conducted by the Korean-American Inter-Agency Council. [124] According to a Los Angeles Times survey conducted eleven months after the riots, almost 40 percent of Korean Americans said they were thinking of leaving Los Angeles. [125]

Before a verdict was issued in the new 1993 Rodney King federal civil rights trial against the four officers, Korean shop owners prepared for the worst. Gun sales went up, many to people of Korean descent some merchants at flea markets removed merchandise from shelves, and they fortified storefronts with extra Plexiglas and bars. Throughout the region, merchants readied to defend themselves. [124] College student Elizabeth Hwang spoke of the attacks on her parents' convenience store in 1992. She said at the time of the 1993 trial, they had been armed with a Glock 17 pistol, a Beretta, and a shotgun, and they planned to barricade themselves in their store to fight off looters. [124]

Some Koreans formed armed militia groups following the 1992 riots. Speaking just prior to the 1993 verdict, Yong Kim, leader of the Korea Young Adult Team of Los Angeles, which purchased five AK-47s, said "We made a mistake last year. This time we won't. I don't know why Koreans are always a special target for African-Americans, but if they are going to attack our community, then we are going to pay them back." [124]

Aftermath Edit

Korean Americans not only faced physical damage to their stores and community surroundings, but they also suffered emotional, psychological, and economic despair. About 2,300 Korean-owned stores in southern California were looted or burned, making up 45 percent of all damages caused by the riot. According to the Asian and Pacific American Counseling and Prevention Center, 730 Koreans were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which included insomnia and a sense of helplessness and muscle pain. In reaction, many Korean Americans worked to create political and social empowerment. [120]

As a result of the L.A. riots, Korean Americans formed activist organizations such as the Association of Korean-American Victims. They built collaborative links with other ethnic groups through groups like the Korean American Coalition. [126] A week after the riots, in the largest Asian-American protest ever held in a city, about 30,000 mostly-Korean and Korean-American marchers walked the streets of L.A. Koreatown, calling for peace and denouncing police violence. This cultural movement was devoted to the protection of Koreans' political rights, ethnic heritage, and political representation. New leaders arose within the community, and second-generation children spoke on behalf of the community. Korean Americans began to have different occupation goals, from storeowners to political leaders. Korean Americans worked to gain governmental aid to rebuild their damaged neighborhoods. Countless community and advocacy groups have been established to further fuel Korean political representation and understanding. After suffering from isolation, they worked to gain new understanding and connections. The representative voice that was created remains present in South Central Los Angeles. The riots contributed to the shaping of identities, perceptions and political and social representation. [120]

Edward Taehan Chang, a professor of ethnic studies and founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside, has identified the LA riots as a turning point for the development of a Korean American identity separate from that of Korean immigrants and that was more politically active. "What was an immigrant Korean identity began to shift. The Korean-American identity was born . They learned a valuable lesson that we have to become much more engaged and politically involved and that political empowerment is very much part of the Korean-American future." [ citation needed ]

According to Edward Park, the 1992 violence stimulated a new wave of political activism among Korean-Americans, but it also split them into two camps. [127] [128] The liberals sought to unite with other minorities in Los Angeles to fight against racial oppression and scapegoating. The conservatives emphasized law and order and generally favored the economic and social policies of the Republican Party. The conservatives tended to emphasize the differences between Koreans and other minorities, specifically African Americans. [129] [130]

Latinos Edit

According to a report prepared in 1993 by the Latinos Futures Research Group for the Latino Coalition for a New Los Angeles, one third of those who were killed and one half of those who were arrested in the riots were Latino moreover, between 20% and 40% of the businesses that were looted were owned by Latino individuals. [131] Hispanics were considered a minority despite their increasing numbers, and thus lacked political support and were poorly represented. Their lack of representation, both socially and politically, silenced their acknowledgment of participation within the area. Many of the individuals of the area were new immigrants they often did not speak English. [132]

Gloria Alvarez claims the riots did not create social distance between Hispanics and black people but rather united them. Although the riots were perceived in different aspects, Alvarez argues it brought a greater sense of understanding between Hispanics and blacks. Even though Hispanics now heavily populate the once predominantly black area, such transition has improved over time. Building a stronger and more understanding community could help prevent social chaos arising between the two groups. [133] Although hate crimes and widespread violence between the two groups continue to be a problem in the L.A. area. [134] However only minor rioting, vandalism and incidents occurred in Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and the heavily populated Hispanic neighborhoods of Northeast Los Angeles.

Almost as soon as the disturbances broke out in South Central, local television news cameras were on the scene to record the events as they happened. [135] Television coverage of the riots was near-continuous, starting with the beating of motorists at the intersection of Florence and Normandie broadcast live by television news pilot and reporter Zoey Tur and her camera operator Marika Gerrard. [136] [137]

In part because of extensive media coverage of the Los Angeles riots, smaller but similar riots and other anti-police actions took place in other cities throughout the United States. [138] [139] The Emergency Broadcast System was also utilized during the rioting. [140]

Coverage came from the American media, which gave an extensive portrayal of the riots, Korean-American media, and Korea itself. One of the most prominent sources for news about the coverage came from the Korea Times, a Korean-American newspaper run entirely independently from American newspapers, such as The New York Times.

Korean-American newspapers Edit

Articles presented from the Korean-American side stated that "Looters apparently targeted Korean American merchants during the LA. Riots, according to the FBI official who directed federal law enforcement efforts during the disturbance." [141] The Korean American newspaper focused on the 1992 riots with Korean Americans being the center of the violence. Initial articles from late April and early May were about the stories depicting victims' lives and the LA Korean Community's damage. Interviews with Koreatown merchants, such as Chung Lee, drew sympathy from its readers. Lee, the example of a model merchant, watched, helplessly, as his store was burned down. "I worked hard for that store. Now I have nothing," said Lee. [141]

Mainstream media Edit

While several articles included the minorities involved when citing damages or naming victims, few actually incorporated them as a significant part of the struggle. One story framed the race riots as occurring at a "time when the wrath of blacks was focused on whites." [142] They acknowledged the fact that racism and stereotyped views contributed to the riots articles in American newspapers portrayed the LA riots as an incident that erupted between black and white people who were struggling to coexist with each other, rather than include all of the minority groups that were involved in the riots. [143]

On Nightline, Ted Koppel initially only interviewed Black leaders about the Black/Korean conflict, [144] and they shared detrimental opinions about Korean-Americans. [145]

Activist Guy Aoki became frustrated with early coverage using Black/White framing, both vilifying the Korean-American community and ignoring their suffering. [145]

Some felt too much emphasis was placed on Korean-American suffering. As filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, who created the 1993 documentary "Sa-I-Gu", described, "black-Korean conflict was one symptom, but it was certainly not the cause of that riot. The cause of that riot was black-white conflict that existed in this country from the establishment of this country." [146]

After the riots subsided, an inquiry was commissioned by the city Police Commission, led by William H. Webster (special advisor), and Hubert Williams (deputy special advisor, president of the Police Foundation). [147] The findings of the inquiry, The City in Crisis: A Report by the Special Advisor to the Board of Police Commissioners on the Civil Disorder in Los Angeles, also colloquially known as the Webster Report or Webster Commission, was released on October 21, 1992. [148] [ relevant? ]

LAPD chief of police Daryl Gates, who had seen his successor Willie L. Williams named by the Police Commission days before the riots, [149] was forced to resign on June 28, 1992. [150] Some areas of the city saw temporary truces between the rival Crips and Bloods gangs, as well as between rival Latino gangs, which fueled speculation among LAPD officers that the truce was going to be used to unite them against the department. [151]

Post-riot commentary Edit

Scholars and writers Edit

In addition to the catalyst of the verdicts in the excessive force trial, various other factors have been cited as causes of the unrest. In the years preceding the riots, several other highly controversial incidents involving police brutality or other perceived injustices against minorities had been criticized by activists and investigated by media. Thirteen days after the beating of King was widely broadcast, blacks were outraged when Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, was mortally shot in the back of the head by a Korean-American shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du, in the course of an assumed shoplifting incident and brief physical altercation. Though the jury recommended a sentence of 16 years, Judge Joyce Karlin changed the sentence to just five years of probation and 400 hours of community service–and no jail time. [152]

Rioters targeted Korean-American shops in their areas, as there had been considerable tension between the two communities. Such sources as Newsweek and Time suggested that blacks thought Korean-American merchants were "taking money out of their community", that they were racist as they refused to hire blacks, and often treated them without respect. There were cultural and language differences, as some shop owners were immigrants. [153] [154]

There were other factors for social tensions: high rates of poverty and unemployment among the residents of South Central Los Angeles, which had been deeply affected by the nationwide recession. [155] [156] Articles in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times linked the economic deterioration of South Central to the declining living conditions of the residents, and reported that local resentments about these conditions helped to fuel the riots. [157] [158] [159] [160] [161] Other scholars compare these riots to those in Detroit in the 1920s, when whites rioted against blacks. [ citation needed ] But instead of African-Americans as victims, the race riots "represent backlash violence in response to recent Latino and Asian immigration into African-American neighborhoods." [162]

Social commentator Mike Davis points to the growing economic disparity in Los Angeles, caused by corporate restructuring and government deregulation, with inner city residents bearing the brunt of such changes such conditions engendered a widespread feeling of frustration and powerlessness in the urban populace, who reacted to the King verdicts with a violent expression of collective public protest. [163] [164] To Davis and other writers, the tensions between African-Americans and Korean-Americans had as much to do with the economic competition between the two groups caused by wider market forces as with cultural misunderstandings and black anger about the killing of Latasha Harlins. [59]

Davis writes that the 1992 Los Angeles Riots are still remembered over 20 years later, and that not many changes have yet occurred conditions of economic inequality, lack of jobs available for black and Latino youth, and civil liberty violations by law enforcement have remained largely unaddressed years later. Davis describes this as a "conspiracy of silence", especially in view of statements made by the Los Angeles Police Department that they would make reforms coming to little fruition. Davis argues that the rioting was different than in the 1965 Watts Riots, which had been more unified among all minorities living in Watts and South Central the 1992 riots, on the other hand, were characterized by divided uproars that defied description of a simple uprising of black against white, and involved the destruction and looting of many businesses owned by racial minorities. [165]

A Special Committee of the California Legislature also studied the riots, producing a report entitled To Rebuild is Not Enough. [166] The Committee concluded that the inner city conditions of poverty, racial segregation, lack of educational and employment opportunities, police abuse and unequal consumer services created the underlying causes of the riots. It also noted that the decline of industrial jobs in the American economy and the growing ethnic diversity of Los Angeles had contributed to urban problems. Another official report, The City in Crisis, was initiated by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners it made many of the same observations as the Assembly Special Committee about the growth of popular urban dissatisfaction. [167] In their study, Farrell and Johnson found similar factors, including the diversification of the L.A. population, tension between the successful Korean businesses and other minorities, and excessive force on minorities by LAPD and the effect of laissez-faire business on urban employment opportunities. [168]

Rioters were believed to have been motivated by racial tensions but these are considered one of numerous factors. [169] Urban sociologist Joel Kotkin said, "This wasn't a race riot, it was a class riot." [153] Many ethnic groups participated in rioting, not only African Americans. Newsweek reported that "Hispanics and even some whites men, women and children mingled with African-Americans." [153] "When residents who lived near Florence and Normandie were asked why they believed riots had occurred in their neighborhoods, they responded of the perceived racist attitudes they had felt throughout their lifetime and empathized with the bitterness the rioters felt. [170] Residents who had respectable jobs, homes, and material items still felt like second class citizens. [170] A poll by Newsweek asked whether black people charged with crimes were treated more harshly or more leniently than other ethnicities 75% of black people responded "more harshly", versus 46% of white people. [153]

In his public statements during the riots, Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, sympathized with African-Americans' anger about the verdicts in the King trial and noted root causes of the disturbances. He repeatedly emphasized the continuing patterns of racism, police brutality, and economic despair suffered by inner-city residents. [171] [172]

Several prominent writers expressed a similar "culture of poverty" argument. Writers in Newsweek, for example, drew a distinction between the actions of the rioters in 1992 with those of the urban upheavals in the 1960s, arguing that "[w]here the looting at Watts had been desperate, angry, mean, the mood this time was closer to a manic fiesta, a TV game show with every looter a winner." [153]

According to a 2019 study in the American Political Science Review found that the riots caused a liberal shift, both in the short-term and long-term, politically. [173]

Politicians Edit

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton said that the violence resulted from the breakdown of economic opportunities and social institutions in the inner city. He also berated both major political parties for failing to address urban issues, especially the Republican Administration for its presiding over "more than a decade of urban decay" generated by their spending cuts. [174] He also maintained that the King verdicts could not be avenged by the "savage behavior" of "lawless vandals" and stated that people "are looting because . [t]hey do not share our values, and their children are growing up in a culture alien from ours, without family, without neighborhood, without church, without support." [174] While Los Angeles was mostly unaffected by the urban decay the other metropolitan areas of the nation faced since the 1960s, racial tensions had been present since the late 1970s, becoming increasingly violent as the 1980s progressed. [ citation needed ]

Democrat Maxine Waters, the African-American Congressional representative of South Central Los Angeles, said that the events in Los Angeles constituted a "rebellion" or "insurrection," caused by the underlying reality of poverty and despair existing in the inner city. This state of affairs, she asserted, was brought about by a government that had all but abandoned the poor and failed to help compensate for the loss of local jobs and the institutional discrimination encountered by racial minorities, especially at the police's hands and financial institutions. [175] [176]

Conversely, President Bush argued that the unrest was "purely criminal." Though he acknowledged that the King verdicts were plainly unjust, he said that "we simply cannot condone violence as a way of changing the system . Mob brutality, the total loss of respect for human life was sickeningly sad . What we saw last night and the night before in Los Angeles is not about civil rights. It's not about the great cause of equality that all Americans must uphold. It's not a message of protest. It's been the brutality of a mob, pure and simple." [177]

Vice President Dan Quayle blamed the violence on a "Poverty of Values" – "I believe the lawless social anarchy which we saw is directly related to the breakdown of family structure, personal responsibility and social order in too many areas of our society" [178] Similarly, the White House Press Secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, alleged that "many of the root problems that have resulted in inner-city difficulties were started in the 1960s and 1970s and . they have failed . [N]ow we are paying the price." [179]

Writers for former Congressman Ron Paul framed the riots in similar terms in the June 1992 edition of the Ron Paul Political Newsletter, billed as a special issue focusing on "racial terrorism." [180] "Order was only restored in LA", the newsletter read, "when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began . What if the checks had never arrived? No doubt, the blacks would have fully privatized the welfare state through continued looting. But they were paid off, and the violence subsided." [181]

Rodney King Edit

In the aftermath of the riots, public pressure mounted for a retrial of the officers. Federal charges of civil rights violations were brought against them. As the first anniversary of the acquittal neared, the city tensely awaited the federal jury's decision.

The decision was read in a court session on Saturday, April 17, 1993 at 7 a.m. Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon were found guilty, while officers Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind were acquitted. Mindful of criticism of sensationalist reporting after the first trial and during the riots, media outlets opted for more sober coverage. [182] Police were fully mobilized with officers on 12 hour shifts, convoy patrols, scout helicopters, street barricades, tactical command centers, and support from the Army National Guard, the active duty Army and the Marines. [183] [184]

All four of the officers left or were fired from the LAPD. Briseno left the LAPD after being acquitted on both state and federal charges. Wind, who was also twice acquitted, was fired after the appointment of Willie L. Williams as Chief of Police. The Los Angeles Police Commission declined to renew Williams's contract, citing failure to fulfill his mandate to create meaningful change in the department. [185]

Susan Clemmer, an officer who gave crucial testimony for the defense during the officers' first trial, committed suicide in July 2009 in the lobby of a Los Angeles Sheriff's Station. She had ridden in the ambulance with King and testified that he was laughing and spat blood on her uniform. She had remained in law enforcement and was a Sheriff's Detective at the time of her death. [186] [187]

Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages from the City of Los Angeles. He invested most of this money in founding a hip-hop record label, "Straight Alta-Pazz Records." The venture was unable to garner success and soon folded. King was later arrested at least eleven times on a variety of charges, including domestic abuse and hit and run. [56] [188] King and his family moved from Los Angeles to San Bernardino County's Rialto suburb in an attempt to escape the fame and notoriety and begin a new life.

King and his family later returned to Los Angeles, where they ran a family-owned construction company. Until his death on June 17, 2012, King rarely discussed the night of his beating by police or its aftermath, preferring to remain out of the spotlight. King died of an accidental drowning authorities said that he had alcohol and drugs in his body. Renee Campbell, his most recent attorney, described King as " . simply a very nice man caught in a very unfortunate situation." [189]

Arrests Edit

On May 3, 1992, in view large number of persons arrested during the riots, the California Supreme Court extended the deadline to charge defendants from 48 hours to 96 hours. That day, 6,345 people were arrested. [17] Nearly one third of the rioters arrested were released because police officers were unable to identify individuals in the sheer volume of the crowd. In one case, officers arrested around 40 people stealing from one store while they were identifying them, a group of another 12 looters were brought in. With the groups mingled, charges could not be brought against individuals for stealing from specific stores, and the police had to release them all. [190]

In the weeks after the rioting, more than 11,000 people were arrested. [191] Many of the looters in black communities were turned in by their neighbors, who were angry about the destruction of businesses who employed locals and provided basic needs such as groceries. Many of the looters, fearful of prosecution by law enforcement and condemnation from their neighbors, ended up placing looted items curbside in other neighborhoods to get rid of them.

Rebuilding Los Angeles Edit

After three days of arson and looting some 3,767 buildings were affected and damaged. [192] [193] and property damage was estimated at more than $1 billion. [52] [194] [195] Donations were given to help with food and medicine. The office of State Senator Diane E. Watson provided shovels and brooms to volunteers from all over the community who helped clean. Thirteen thousand police and military personnel were on patrol, protecting intact gas stations and food stores they reopened along with other businesses areas such as the Universal Studios tour, dance halls, and bars. Many organizations stepped forward to rebuild Los Angeles South Central's Operation Hope and Koreatown's Saigu and KCCD (Korean Churches for Community Development), all raised millions to repair destruction and improve economic development. [196] Singer Michael Jackson "donated $1.25 million to start a health counseling service for inner-city kids". [197] President George H.W. Bush signed a declaration of disaster it activated Federal relief efforts for the victims of looting and arson, which included grants and low-cost loans to cover their property losses. [192] The Rebuild LA program promised $6 billion in private investment to create 74,000 jobs. [195] [198]

The majority of the local stores were never rebuilt. [199] Store owners had difficulty getting loans myths about the city or at least certain neighborhoods of it arose discouraging investment and preventing growth of employment. [200] Few of the rebuilding plans were implemented, and business investors and some community members rejected South L.A. [195] [199] [201]

Residential life Edit

Many Los Angeles residents bought weapons for self-defense against further violence. The 10-day waiting period in California law stymied those who wanted to purchase firearms while the riot was going on. [202]

In a survey of local residents in 2010, 77 percent felt that the economic situation in Los Angeles had significantly worsened since 1992. [196] From 1992 to 2007, the black population dropped by 123,000, while the Latino population grew more than 450,000. [199] According to the Los Angeles police statistics, violent crime fell by 76 percent between 1992 and 2010, which was a period of declining crime across the country. It was accompanied by lessening tensions between racial groups. [203] In 2012, sixty percent of residents reported racial tension had improved in the past 20 years, and the majority said gang activity had also decreased. [204]