Los Angeles riots of 1992

Los Angeles riots of 1992

The Los Angeles riots of 1992, also known as the Rodney King uprising or the Rodney King riots, were sparked on April 29, 1992 when a jury acquitted four police officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King following a high-speed pursuit. Thousands of people in the Los Angeles area rioted over the six days following the verdict. Widespread looting, assault, arson, and murder occurred, and property damages totaled one billion dollars. Many of the crimes were gang-motivated or perpetrated. In all, 53 people died during the riots. [http://www.laweekly.com/general/features/the-la-53/10557/ "The L.A. 53"] . By Jim Crogan. "LA Weekly." April 24, 2002.]

Underlying causes

In addition to the immediate trigger of the verdict, many other factors were cited as reasons for the unrest, including extremely high unemployment among residents of South Central Los Angeles, which had been hit very hard by the nation-wide recession; a long-standing perception that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) engaged in racial profiling and used excessive force, subsequently supported by the Christopher Commission, an investigation led by Warren Christopher (who two years later would become Secretary of State under president Bill Clinton); and specific anger over the sentence given to a Korean American shop-owner for the murder of Latasha Harlins, an African American girl. Additionally, in the time between the public revelation of King's arrest and the trial verdict, the two L.A. street gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, agreed to a truce with each other, and began working together to make political demands of the police and the L.A. political establishment.Fact|date=August 2008On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was heavily beaten with clubs, tackled, and tasered by four L.A.P.D. officers. The incident, minus the first few minutes when police claim King was violently resisting arrest, was captured on video by a private citizen, George Holliday, from his apartment in the vicinity. "Most of America saw an edited version of the amateur videotape. Jurors in the officers' trial saw an additional 13 seconds, in which King charged the officers. This version fueled the jurors' decision to acquit." [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/authors_corner/jan-june98/cannon_4-7.html] The footage of King being beaten by police officers while lying on the ground became an international media sensation and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States.

The police officers claimed that King appeared to be under the influence of PCP, [ cite news |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE4DE1231F933A15750C0A964958260&scp=4&sq=rodney+king%20PCP&st=cse |title= Sergeant Says King Appeared to Be on Drugs |publisher="The New York Times" |date= March 20, 1992 ] though this claim was never proven. King had led police on a high-speed pursuit. After driving through several red lights and boulevard stops, he pulled over in the Lake View Terrace district. In a later interview, King, who was on parole from prison on a robbery conviction, and had past convictions for assault, battery and robbery [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybVb3t560oY The Arrest Record of Rodney King] ] [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=C0tWztU6f0sC&pg=RA1-PA41&lpg=RA1-PA41&dq=%22rodney+king%22+wife&source=web&ots=a8XKoKYhN4&sig=KCZJBAfoeCTL4E0iK_vpz5lcfoE Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD] pages 41-42] said that, being on parole, he feared apprehension and being returned to prison for parole violations.

The Los Angeles district attorney subsequently charged the police officers with the use of excessive force in the arrest. Due to the media coverage of the arrest, the trial received a change of venue from Los Angeles County to a newly constructed courthouse in the predominantly white city of Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County. No Simi Valley residents served on the jury, which was drawn from the nearby San Fernando Valley, a predominantly white and Hispanic area. The prosecutor who failed to obtain convictions for three of the officers in this case, Terry White, was black. [ [http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/trials24.htm JURIST - The Rodney King Beating Trials ] ] [http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lapd/white.jpg] On April 29, 1992, three of the officers were acquitted by a jury of ten Caucasians, one Latino, and an Asian. Fact|date=October 2008The jury could not agree on a verdict for one of the counts on one of the officers. The acquittal was based in part on the first two seconds of a blurry, 13-second segment of the video tape that was edited out by television news stations in their broadcast. During the first two seconds of videotape [ [http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lapd/kingvideo.html videotape] ] , Rodney King allegedly gets up off the ground and charges in the general direction of one of the police officers, Ofc. Laurence Powell but this allegation is disputed due to the blurriness of the video. During the next minute and 19 seconds, however, King is beaten continuously by the officers. The officers testified that they tried to physically restrain King prior to the starting point of the videotape but, according to the officers, King was able to physically throw them off himself. [The National Geographic Channel (US version) program "The Final Report: The L.A. Riots" aired originally on October 4, 2006 10pm EDT, approximately 27 minutes into the hour (including commercial breaks).] Based on this testimony and the previously unseen segment of the videotape, the officers were acquitted on almost all charges, although many people would argue that King's actions still did not justify his brutal beating.

Another explanation which has been given for the officers' acquittal is that the jurors may have become desensitized to the violence of the beating, as the defense played the videotape repeatedly in slow motion, breaking it down until its emotional impact was lost. [Cannon, L. (2002). "Official Negligence : How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD". Basic Books. ISBN 0-81-333725-9]


The riots, beginning in the evening after the verdict, peaked in intensity over the next two days, but ultimately continued for several days. Television coverage of the riots was near-continuous, including much footage from helicopter news crews. A curfew, and deployment of the National Guard began to control the situation; eventually federal troops from the 7th Infantry Division, based in Fort Ord and United States Marines from the 1st Marine Division, based in Camp Pendleton were ordered to the city to quell disorder as well.

Fifty-three lives were lost, many of them murdered, with as many as 2,000 people injured. Estimates of the material damage done vary between about $800 million and $1 billion. Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Over 10,000 people were arrested. Stores owned by Korean and other Asian immigrants were widely targeted, although stores owned by whites and African-Americans were targeted by rioters as well. Criminals used the chaos to their own benefit. Street gangs used the riot as an opportunity to settle scores with each other, and fought the police and military as well. They were also copycat riots across the nation such as in San Francisco, Houston, Detroit, New York City, Chicago, and Miami, and in Toronto, Canada.

First day (Wednesday, April 29)

The acquittals of the four accused LAPD officers came at 3:15 p.m. local time. By 3:45, a generally peaceful crowd of more than 300 persons had appeared at the Los Angeles County Courthouse, most protesting the verdict passed down a few minutes before. Between 5 and 6 p.m., a group of two dozen officers, commanded by LAPD Lt. Michael Moulin, confronted a growing crowd at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles. Outnumbered, these officers retreated. [The National Geographic Channel (US version) program "The Final Report: The L.A. Riots" aired originally on October 4, 2006 10pm EDT, approximately 38 minutes into the hour (including commercial breaks).] A new group of protesters appeared at Parker Center, the LAPD's headquarters, by about 6:30 p.m., and 15 minutes later, the black crowd at Florence and Normandie had started looting, attacking vehicles and people, mainly European-Americans and Latino-Americans of white appearance.

Reginald Denny beating

At approximately 6:45 p.m., Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Florence and South Normandie Avenues, was dragged from his vehicle and severely beaten by a mob of local residents as news helicopters hovered above, recording every blow, including a concrete fragment connecting with Denny's temple and a cinder block thrown at his head as he lay unconscious in the street. The police never appeared, having been ordered to withdraw for their own safety, although several assailants (the so-called L.A. Four) were later arrested and one, Damian Williams, was sent to prison. Instead, Denny was rescued, not by police officers, but by an unarmed, African-American civilian named Bobby Green Jr who, seeing the assault live on television, rushed to the scene and drove Denny to the hospital using the victim's own truck, which carried 27 tons of sand. Denny recovered after brain surgery. Although several other motorists were brutally beaten by the same mob, due to the live coverage, Denny remains the best-known victim of the riots.

Fidel Lopez beating

At the same intersection, just minutes after Denny was rescued, another beating was captured on video tape. Fidel Lopez, a self-employed construction worker and Guatemalan immigrant, was ripped from his truck and robbed of nearly $2,000. Damian Williams smashed his forehead open with a car stereocite news
title = Man Pleads Guilty to Trying To Rob Trucker During Riot
publisher = New York Times
date = March 17, 1993
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE6DC1239F934A25750C0A965958260
] as another rioter attempted to slice his ear off. After Lopez lost consciousness, the crowd spray painted his chest, torso and genitals black. [cite book
last = Alexander
first = Von Hoffman
title = House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods
publisher = Oxford University Press
date = 2003
pages = 227
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=6tAQFzdJ6x0C&pg=PA227&lpg=PA227&dq=fidel+lopez+riot&source=web&ots=YNdw4EZDql&sig=MevUQC_sefqsmYpNbn0wq8P3abc#PPA227,M1
isbn = 0195144376
] Lopez survived the attack, after extensive surgery to reattach his partially severed ear and months of recovery. Rev. Bennie Newton, an African American minister who ran an inner-city ministry for troubled youth, prevented others from beating Fidel by placing himself between Fidel and his attackers and shouting "Kill him and you have to kill me, too". He was also instrumental in helping Fidel get medical aid by taking him to the hospital.

The riots continue

Arsonists struck in that neighborhood and others, taking out their anger on several unguarded businesses, police and other races. By 7:30 the intersection of Florence and Normandie was completely looted, burned and destroyed, causing the rioters to move into other neighborhoods of South Central. The LAFD's first fire call relating to the riots came at about 7:45 p.m. Looters threw bricks to smash windows and Molotov cocktails to start fires. Cars were torched to block intersections; others were carjacked and their drivers beaten. Shots were fired at rescue personnel. By dark, stores were being openly looted and fires burned unabated as fire officials refused to send firemen into personal danger. The LAPD ordered all officers to report for duty, and many deployed in riot gear but they were unseen in broad sections of the city. Between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. rioting focused in South Central Los Angeles began to spread. Between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. rioting began in Inglewood and other communities.

By 9:00 p.m., the protest at Parker Center had turned violent as rioters threw rocks and damaged some downtown buildings and windows. Also by this time, the situation in affected areas had deteriorated enough that bus service was suspended on some lines, and the flight paths of incoming jets to Los Angeles International Airport were modified because of shots fired at a police helicopter. At 10 pm members of LAPD Metropolitan C and B platoons were involved in a firefight at 114th Street and Central Avenue while protecting Fire Department personnel. Hundreds of rounds were fired and the V-100 rescue vehicle was sent to extract the officers safely. The V-100 rescue vehicle then recovered the two dead bodies from the Nickerson Gardens projects that were killed during the battle.

Long-established LAPD tactics and procedures held that the opening hours of a riot were critical, and that a full-force response was required. The LAPD did not respond quickly and decisively in the opening hours, however, and suffered persistent criticism as a result during and following the riots. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley called for a state of emergency at 8:45 p.m., prompting Governor Pete Wilson to activate 2,000 members of the National Guard.

econd day (Thursday, April 30)

By the second day violence appeared widespread and unchecked as heavy looting and fires had started being witnessed across Los Angeles County. The Korean American community, seeing the police force's abandonment of Koreatown, swiftly organized a self-defense squad composed of veteran Marines and workers, who entered the fray. Open gun battles were televised as Korean shopkeepers and the self-defense group took to using firearms to protect their businesses (often their sole livelihood) from crowds of violent looters. (One of the volunteers, 18-year-old Edward Lee, was killed in the crossfire that evening.) [cite book
title=Multiculturalism in the United States: Current Issues, Contemporary Voices
editor=Peter Kivisto, Georganne Rundblad
publisher=Pine Forge Press
] Organized law-enforcement response began to come together by mid-day. Fire crews began to respond backed by police escort; California Highway Patrol reinforcements were airlifted to the city; and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared a state of emergency and announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew. President George H. W. Bush spoke out against the rioting, stating that "anarchy" would not be tolerated. The California National Guard, which had been advised not to expect civil disturbance, responded quickly by calling up some 2,000 soldiers, but could not get them to the city until nearly 24 hours had passed due to a lack of proper equipment, training, and available ammunition which had to be picked up from Camp Roberts, California (near Paso Robles). Initially, they only secured areas previously cleared of rioters by police. Later, they actively ran patrols, maintained checkpoints, and provided firepower for law enforcement.

In an attempt to end hostilities, Bill Cosby spoke on the NBC affliate television station KNBC and asked people to stop what they were doing and instead watch the final episode of The Cosby Show. [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001070/bio Bill Cosby asks for peace during 1992 Los Angeles Riot] [ [http://www.bayweekly.com/year05/issuexiii26/featurexiii26.html Bay Weekly: This Weeks Feature Stories ] ]

The same members of LAPD Metropolitan Division C-platoon that were involved in the firefight at 114th Street and Central Avenue on the first night drove into a robbery in progress at the gas station at Vernon and Western. One robber was killed, a second was wounded and a sawed-off shotgun was recovered.

Third day (Friday, May 1)

The third day was punctuated by live footage of Rodney King asking, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" [Ralph Keyes. [http://www.ralphkeyes.com/pages/books/quote/excerpt.htm The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When] ISBN 0-312-34004-4] cite news
url= http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE5DD1331F93AA35750C0A965958260
last= Mydans
first= Seth
title= Jury Could Hear Rodney King Today
date= 1993-12-09
publisher= The New York Times
accessdate= 2008-01-09
] That morning, at 1:00 a.m., California Governor Pete Wilson had requested federal assistance, but it was not ready until Saturday. National Guard units (doubled to 4,000 troops) continued to move into the city in Humvees. Additionally, a varied contingent of 1,700 federal law-enforcement officers from different agencies from across the state began to arrive, to protect federal facilities and assist local police. As darkness fell, the main riot area was further hit by a power outage.

Friday evening, President George H.W. Bush spoke to the nation, denouncing "random terror and lawlessness", summarizing his discussions with Mayor Bradley and Governor Wilson, and outlining 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 then turned to the Rodney King case and a more moderate tone, describing talking to his own grandchildren and pointing to the reaction of "good and decent policemen" as well as civil rights leaders. He said he had already directed the Justice Department to begin its own investigation, saying that "grand jury action is underway today" and that justice would prevail. [cite web | last=Bush | first=George H.W. | authorlink=George H. W. Bush | date=1992-05-01 | url=http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/papers/1992/92050105.html | title=Address to the Nation on the Civil Disturbances in Los Angeles, California | publisher=George Bush Presidential Library | accessdate=2006-05-12]

By this point, many entertainment and sports events were postponed or canceled. The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers in a basketball playoff game on the night the rioting started, but the following game was 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; all were made up as part of doubleheaders in July. The Hollywood Park Racetrack and Los Alamitos horse racing tracks were also shut down. L.A. Fiesta Broadway, a major event in the Latino community, was not held in the first weekend in May as scheduled.

Fourth day (Saturday, May 2)

On the fourth day, 4,000 Soldiers and Marines arrived from Fort Ord and Camp Pendleton to suppress the crowds and restore order. Order began to appear as the Army and Marines arrived with M1 Abrams tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers. With most of the violence under control, 30,000 people attended a peace rally. By the end of the day a sense of normality began to return.

Whether in response to the riots, or simply to the acquital, on May 2 the Justice Department announced it would begin a federal investigation of the Rodney King beating.

Fifth day (Sunday, May 3)

Overall quiet set in and Mayor Bradley assured the public that the crisis was pretty much under control. [cite news | author=Del Vecchio, Rick, Suzanne Espinosa, & Carle Nolte | title=Bradley Ready to Lift Curfew He Says L.A. is 'under control' | publisher=San Francisco Chronicle | page=A1 | date=1992-05-04] In one incident, National Guardsmen shot and killed a motorist that they said tried to run them over. [ cite news |first=Robert |last=Reinhold |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE6DD1F38F936A35756C0A964958260 |title= RIOTS IN LOS ANGELES: The Overview; As Rioting Mounted, Gates Remained at Political Event |publisher="The New York Times" |date = May 5, 1992 ]

ixth day (Monday, May 4)

Although Mayor Bradley lifted the curfew, signaling the official end of the riots, 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 state guard remained until May 14; and some soldiers remained as late as May 27.

The most accurate documented count of the dead may be the April 24, 2002 LA Weekly article, "The L.A. 53", by Jim Crogan. Using coroner's reports, police records and interviews, he documented 53 people and how they died.cquote
Gunfire killed 35, including eight people shot by law enforcement and two by National Guardsmen. Six died in arson fires. Attackers used sticks or boards to kill two others. Stabbings killed two. Six died in car accidents; two in hit-and-runs. One was strangled.

The violence crossed racial and ethnic lines. The dead included 25 African-Americans, 16 Latinos, eight Caucasians, two Asians, one Algerian, and one Indian or Middle Easterner. Men outnumbered women, 48 to 5.


By the time the riots ended, pressure mounted for a retrial of the officers, and federal charges of civil rights violations were brought against the officers. Near the first anniversary of the acquittal, the city tensely awaited the decision of the federal jury; seven days of deliberations raised speculative fear of an incendiary outcome in the event of a not guilty verdict.

Precautionary measures were taken by the government and media. The decision was read in an atypical 7:00 a.m. Saturday court session on April 17, 1993. Two officers--Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon were found guilty and the other two were acquitted. Mindful of accusations of sensationalist reporting following the first jury decision, media outlets opted for more sober coverage which included calmer on-the-street interviews. [cite news | first=Howard | Last=Rosenberg | title=Los Angeles TV Shows Restraint | publisher=Chicago Sun-Times | page=22 | date=1993-04-19] Police were fully mobilized with officers on 12-hour shifts, convoy patrols, scout helicopters, street barricades, tactical command centers, and support from the National Guard and Marines. [cite news | first=Seth | last=Mydans | title=Verdict in Los Angeles; Fear Subsides With Verdict, But Residents Remain Wary | publisher=The New York Times | page=11 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CEEDC153EF93AA25757C0A965958260 |date=1993-04-19|accessdate=2008-04-08] [cite news | author=Tisdall, Simon, & Christopher Reed | title=All Quiet on the Western Front After King Verdicts | publisher=The Guardian | page=20 | date=1993-04-19]

The Korean American community now refers to the L.A. riots as "Sa-i-gu," which literally translates to 4-29, the date of the riot. The Korean American community largely felt misrepresented by the media and abandoned by community forces and sustained a majority of the economic losses involved in the riots.

The four officers have since quit or have been fired from the LAPD. Officer Theodore Briseno left the LAPD after being acquitted on federal charges. Officer Timothy Wind, who was also tried twice and acquitted twice, was fired after Willie L. Williams became Chief of Police. Chief Williams himself did not have his contract renewed by the Los Angeles Police Commission, who said Williams had failed his primary task of remaking the city's police force in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating. [cite news
url= http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE6D91539F932A25750C0A961958260
last= Ayres Jr.
first= B. Drummond
title= Los Angeles Police Chief Will Be Let Go
date= 1997-03-11
publisher= The New York Times
accessdate= 2008-04-08

Rodney King has since been arrested eleven times on a variety of charges including spousal abuse, hit-and-run, and other misdemeanor charges.cite news
url= http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/19/national/19king.html
last= LeDuff
first= Charlie
title= 12 Years After the Riots, Rodney King Gets Along
date= 2004-09-19
publisher= The New York Times
accessdate= 2008-04-08

The LAPD Captain in charge of the division hired a press agent, thus avoiding direct contact with news media after the riots. (source: "Reader's Digest)"

=The riots in popular culture=

The Los Angeles riots had a broad impact on popular culture that still continues, influencing music, film, television, video games and other art forms.

=See also=
* Watts riots
* American Civil Rights Movement Timeline
* Zoot Suit Riots
* Sister Souljah moment
* Maxine Waters
* 2001 Oldham riots
* 2001 Bradford Riots
* 2006 Dublin riots
* 2005 Cronulla riots
* Police brutality
* 2005 civil unrest in France
* Freedom Writers
* 3rd Battalion 1st Marines


External links

* [http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/la_riot/article/0,28804,1614117_1614084,00.html The L.A. Riots: 15 Years after Rodney King] from Time.com
* [http://www.militarymuseum.org/HistoryKingMilOps.html Military operations during the 1992 Los Angeles riots] - by a participating guardsman
* [http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/97summer/schnau.htm Lessons in command and control from the L.A. riots] - Parameters, journal of the Army War College
* [http://www.semp.us/biots/biot_144.html Flawed Emergency Response during the L.A. riots] - professional article
* [http://www.laweekly.com/general/features/the-la-53/10557/ The L.A. 53] - full listing of 53 known deaths during the riots, from the "L.A. Weekly"
* [http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0429/p01s07-ussc.html L.A.'s darkest days] - "Christian Science Monitor" retrospective and interviews with victims and participants
* [http://www.lafire.com/famous_fires/920429_LA-Riots/LATimes-2002-0429-0501/2002-0429_latimes_ChartingTheHoursofChaos.htm Charting The Hours of Chaos] - a Los Angeles Times article
* [http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lapd/Kingkeyfigures.html The Rodney King Trial key figures]
* [http://libcom.org/history/1992-the-la-riots The LA Riots 1992] - An anarchist perspective focusing on riots, characterizes riots as political uprising.
* [http://www.geocities.com/aufheben2/auf_1_la.html The Rebellion in Los Angeles] - analysis of the LA riots as a proletarian revolt, by libertarian Marxist journal Aufheben.

* [http://www.urbanvoyeur.com/lariots/index.html Urban Voyeur] - black and white photographs taken during the riots
* [http://www.fragmentsweb.org/stuff/photking.html Aftermath of the Rodney King riots] - photographs

* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROn_9302UHg Footage of the Rodney King beating]
* [http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-042702riot1,1,256184.realvideo?ramfile=true Day 1] - Los Angeles Times/KTLA
* [http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-042702riot2,1,321721.realvideo?ramfile=true Day 2 (Part 1)] - Los Angeles Times/KTLA
* [http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-042702riotpt2,1,3485968.realvideo?ramfile=true Day 2 (Part 2)] - Los Angeles Times/KTLA
* [http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-042702riot3,1,387258.realvideo?ramfile=true Day 3] - Los Angeles Times/KTLA
* [http://www.ifilm.com/video/2669732 iFilm Video]
* [http://www.ifilm.com/video/2776193 Final Report on the riots]
* [http://www.youtube.com/v/ltWCBDinSxI&hl=en Violence begins on Florence and Normandie]

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