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Los Angeles Riots (1992)

Los Angeles Riots (1992)

On March 3, 1991, four Los Angeles Police Department officers stopped motorist Rodney King (1965–) after a high-speed chase. A man nearby, who happened to have his video camera ready, photographed most of King's arrest, minus the first couple of minutes. The videotape showed King receiving scores of blows from the four officers’ night sticks. The witness sold his videotape to a television station in Los Angeles, California , and soon the incident was being replayed on national news broadcasts. The television station, however, had edited the videotape that was seen by the nation. A thirteen-second segment, in which King charged at the police, was never shown. The public viewed what followed—four armed officers brutally clubbing an unarmed, restrained man.

In the resulting storm of protest, the four police officers were charged with using unnecessary force. Because the video had stirred such emotion among blacks in Los Angeles, the officers’ defense attorneys got the trial moved from Los Angeles to nearby Simi Valley, a mostly white suburb. On April 29, 1992, the jury cleared the police officers of the charges.

Rioting erupts

Resentment about police brutality had been festering among the African Americans and Hispanics of Los Angeles. The acquittal of the officers in the King beating was the last straw. Within hours of the verdict, a riot engulfed the city. Angry black and Hispanic youths began attacking white motorists, including a truck driver named Reginald Denny (1953–), who nearly died after being pulled from his truck and beaten with bricks and bats. A helicopter hovered above photographing the incident, which was later seen on news shows nationwide. Unarmed African Americans who lived nearby saw the footage on television and ran out to rescue the unconscious man. Soon after the Denny beating, Fidel Lopez, a Guatemalan immigrant, was severely beaten at the same intersection.

As the afternoon turned to evening, the violence spread from south central Los Angeles to other parts of the city. A mob lit a fire in city hall and damaged the criminal courts building. Arsonists and looters spread into Hollywood, Long Beach, Culver City, and even into the San Fernando Valley. The Los Angeles area became dotted with scores of fires. Surprisingly, the most brutal attacks were reserved for Asian businesses, especially those in poor neighborhoods.

After three days of violence and looting, the riot was finally stopped with the help of the National Guard and the Marine Corps . Between fifty and sixty people had died and two thousand more were injured. Damage estimates climbed to nearly $1 billion. While residents tried to rebuild their communities, federal authorities charged the four police officers in the King case with civil rights violations. Two of the officers were found guilty and sentenced to prison.

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