Remember the L.A. Riots?
Fires During LA Riots (Photo by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
A pivotal event in the 1990s was the L.A. Riots. For three days in the early nineties, police and National Guard troops worked to stop the rioting, looting, assaults, and arson that were spreading through the city. The riots were the end result of a series of events that tore open old wounds regarding racial targeting and police brutality. Let’s look at the timeline of events leading up to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992.
March 3, 1991 - The Rodney King Beating
More than a year before the riots broke out was the event that started it all. On March 3, 1991, the California Highway Patrol pulled over a speeding motorist, Rodney King. King, who had been drinking earlier, admitted later that he did try to dodge the police, but he eventually pulled his car over in front of an apartment building. The California Highway Patrol was joined by the Los Angeles police at this time. A resident of the apartment building, George Holliday, woke to the noise and commotion going on outside. He grabbed his camcorder and recorded a video of the four police officers brutally kicking and beating King, even after he had fallen to the ground. The video was graphic and disturbing. Holliday took it to a local television station and it was aired all over the country.
March 15, 1991 – Charges are Filed Against the Officers
The Los Angeles County grand jury investigated the tape, which clearly showed the four officers beating Rodney King. On March 15, 1991, the grand jury recommended filing charges against the four officers. All four pleaded not guilty. A trial date was set.
November 26, 1991 – The Trial is Moved
Concerned that the officers would not get a fair trial because of the daily news coverage of the incident, the attorneys for the police officers requested that the trial be moved to a more neutral location. The courts agreed. The trial was moved about thirty miles outside of Los Angeles to the town of Simi Valley, California. The prosecution argued that Simi Valley was not a neutral location after all. The predominantly white community was home to a large group of Los Angeles police officers. Yet the courts allowed for the relocation of the trial, claiming that the officers would have a better chance of a fair trial there, than in L.A.
April 29, 1992 – The Verdict Is In
The jury in the trial of the four officers – nine whites, one Hispanic, one Asian-American, and one bi-racial person – took a full week to deliberate at the conclusion of the trial. To the shock of the nation, they announced that nearly all of the officers were acquitted of the charges. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley stated, “The jury’s verdict will never blind the world to what we saw on the videotape.” Also in attendance when the verdict was read was film director John Singleton, who accurately predicted, “What these people have done is they lit the fuse to a bomb.”
April 29, 1992 – Rioting Breaks out in L.A.
When the verdict was read, people, especially the predominantly black residents of South Los Angeles, reacted in anger and disbelief. Riots broke out as angry mobs looked for ways to unleash their anger and frustration. Buildings were burned, cars were overturned, stores were looted, and crowds grew larger. California Governor Pete Wilson called in the National Guard to help restore order, but the target of the wrath was focused toward police officers and white authority figures. Even with the National Guard and an emergency curfew in place, the riots continued unabated.
April 29, 1992 – Another Motorist is Attacked on Film
As tempers ignited and mob mentality took hold, common sense and humanity went out the window. On the first day of the three-day riots, a group of four young black men stopped a construction truck driven by a white man, Reginald Denny. They pulled Denny from the vehicle and beat him mercilessly as a news helicopter recorded the whole thing. At one point, one of the young men struck Denny in the head with a brick, causing permanent brain damage. Thanks in part to the video captured by the news chopper, the four men were caught and arrested for the unprovoked attack.
May 1, 1993 – Rodney King Goes on TV
After three days and nights of rioting, with hundreds of buildings burned, Rodney King himself appeared in a press conference in an attempt to stop the rioting. In King’s brief but emotional speech, he uttered the now-famous line, “Can’t we all just get along?” After King appeared on TV news stations, the rioting slowed down. A few days later, the curfew was lifted.
June 18, 1992 – LAPD Police Chief Resigns
During the lead up to the trial of the four officers, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who served in his position for 14 years, had come under fire for creating a culture of racial targeting and racial insensitivity within the LAPD. Many people claimed that events like the Rodney King beating had been occurring for quite some time, but it took a concerned citizen with a video camera to shed a light on the police brutality. Six weeks after the LA Riots ended, Chief Gates tendered his resignation.
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