The Big Event: 1992 – The L.A. Riots


*The four officers acquitted of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King

Looting. Fires. People being beaten. Police nowhere to be found. That was the 1992 L.A. Riots in a nutshell. When the powder keg is brimming, it is only a matter of time before it explodes. After the four officers that beat Rodney King were acquitted, it burst violently. It was like an erupting volcano. The anger was so thick you could put it on a plate and eat it.


I was merely an observer of this tragic event. Living on the Westside of L.A., the riots didn’t spill over much into my area other than a few stores being looted. I do remember the piles of shattered glass vividly at the Foot Locker nearby. As far as violence went, a lot of it was centered in South Central where the heart of the riot was. To watch it on TV was like watching anarchy unfold in the worst way possible.


To say it was a surprise would be nonsense. People often point to the Rodney King beating in 1991 that was caught on tape. The fact that the four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers that nearly killed him were let go without even a slap on the wrist was devastating to anyone with a sympathetic bone in their body. What many tend to forget is that the Rodney King beating was not the only incident that created this riot.


Only a week after King’s beating was broadcast over and over on the news, a fourteen year-old African-American girl was shot and killed by a Korean liquor store owner in South Central. She was accused by the store owner of trying to steal orange juice although the police said she had no intention of doing so. After a scuffle between the two ensued, the store owner shot Harlins in the back of the head as she walked away, instantly killing her.


*The liquor store where Latasha Harlins was killed

What did the store owner get? A $500 fine and 400 hours of community service plus probation. That obviously did not sit well with the residents of South Central as well as many other people across the nation. Regarding the King beating, you also had a chief of police in Daryl Gates that publicly condemned the beatings his officers inflicted on King yet did nothing to stop the numerous pleads of police brutality and harassment from minority community leaders before the King incident happened. In short, minorities couldn’t trust a word Gates or the LAPD said.


*LAPD Chief Daryl Gates was not trusted by minorities in Los Angeles

Another note on the trial of the four LAPD officers: It was held in the predominantly white Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley. The jury was made up of nine Caucasians, one Asian, one Latino, and one biracial man. Had the trial taken place inside the city of Los Angeles, perhaps the jury would have been more mixed and the outcome may have been different. No one will ever know for sure.


*Would the Rodney King trial ended differently had it been somewhere else?

The acquittals came around 3:15, Pacific Standard Time. It was not long after that the riots began. Sheriffs had to protect one of the officers from enraged protestors as they escorted him out of the courthouse. The first reported incident appears to have been a group of people who walked into a liquor and chose not to pay for anything. Instead, they hit the store owner’s son over the head with a beer bottle and smashed the front door glass. Officers responded and filed a report but no one was caught or arrested.


*The intersection where the L.A. Riots apparently started (Ted Soqui)

About an hour and half after the verdicts were read, LA Mayor Tom Bradley made an announcement for the citizens of the city to refrain from violence while at the same time condemning the verdict. From that moment on, the violence began to picking up swiftly. As cops in the area of South Central were met with increasingly hostile crowds, Lieutenant Moulin ordered his men to evacuate the area in fear that they were not prepared to deal with the situation. He claimed the riot gear was stored back at police academy. When the Los Angeles News Service helicopter arrived over the area at around 6:30pm, the pilot reported there was no police presence.


*Aerial view of firefighters putting out just one of thousands of fires during the L.A. Riots

Florence and Normandie is often mentioned as the epicenter of the L.A. Riots. Part of this is because of the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. Many people tend to forget that before Denny entered the area, another truck driver, Larry Tarvin, drove through. When he stopped at a red light, he was pulled from the truck and beaten unconscious with a fire extinguisher taken from the truck. An unidentified man stopped the beaten and Tarvin, after coming to, was able to return to his truck and flee.


*Florence and Normandie is known as the most notorious location of the L.A. Riots

The most notable beating of the riots was Denny, however. He was pulled from his truck by a mob of African-Americans and beaten senseless. One many threw a brick at his head, fracturing Denny’s skull in 91 places. He was rescued by an African-American resident of the area named Bobby Green Jr. who, upon arriving at the scene, drove Denny to the hospital.


*Reginald Denny lays next to the brick that fractured his skull in 19 places as his attackers show the helicopter filming above

Another man, a self-employed Guatemalan immigrant construction worker, was dragged from his car and had his forehead smashed open with a car stereo. One attacker attempted to slice his ear off before Rev. Benny Newton intervened and told the attackers that, “Kill him, and you have to kill me.” Fortunately, the attackers pulled away and Lopez survived the attack.


*The blurry image shows Rev. Benny Green standing over the beaten Fidel Lopez to prevent any further damage

After three days of rioting the damage assessed was significant. 63 people dead, more than 2300 injured, and at least 12,000 arrested. Sadly, 23 of those people that died remain unsolved murders. It is hard to say if the city has ever recovered or mended the poor relationship between minorities and the police. It took a number of years, and more than a billion dollars, for South Central to recover all the stores burned down and destroyed by the riots.

Below is a 6-minute montage of some moments during the 1992 L.A. Riots.

Published by aaronpkahle

I like a lot of things but 90s American pop culture is my jam.

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