10 Things You Need To Know About The Los Angeles Riots After The Rodney King Verdict Of 1992

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Written by Ann Brown
On April 29, 1992, a jury found four LAPD officers not guilty of beating a Black motorist excessively. That same day, the Los Angeles Riots began. A Building Housing Several Shops burns out of Control Thursday night April 30, 1992 in Los Angeles following a second day of rioting and looting as a result of an acquittal of four L.A. Policemen in the beating of Rodney King. (AP Photo/Mark Elias)

How the L.A. Riots of 1992 started. On March 3, 1991, the LAPD tried to stop motorist Rodney King. The African-American driver, who was on parole for robbery, led police on a high-speed chase through Los Angeles and when the police finally stopped him they ordered King out of the car. The officers then kicked him repeatedly and beat him with batons for a reported 15 minutes. A video taken by a bystander showed that more than a dozen cops stood by, watching and commenting on the beating.

Five white officers – Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano – participated in the beating. 

According to later testimony by Sergeant Koon, King resisted arrest and that he believed King was under the influence of PCP at the time of the arrest, which caused him to be very aggressive and violent. Ultimately, four officers were charged with excessive use of force. 

On April 29, 1992, a jury consisting of mainly white 12 residents from Simi Valley, California, found the four officers not guilty.

That same day, the Los Angeles Riots began in South Central Los Angeles.

Here are 10 things to know about the Los Angles Riots that followed after the Rodney King verdict of 1992.

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Five days of fury

The riots lasted five days when mainly Black residents of Southen 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.”

Injuries

King’s injuries resulted in skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage.

Anger in the streets

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.

Beyond Rodney King

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.”

Florence & Normandie

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

Can we all just get along?

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?”

Forces

More than 9,800 National Guard troops were called in, as were more than 1,100 Marines and 600 Army soldiers.

Curfew lifted

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.

Death count

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.

Civil case settlement

“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, 47, was discovered unconscious at the bottom of his swimming pool. An autopsy revealed drugs and alcohol were in his system.