The 1992 Los Angeles Riots, also remembered as the Rodney King riots and the Battle of Los Angeles, were a series of riots, arsons, looting, and violence that engulfed Los Angeles County following the acquittal of four white police officers involved in the brutal beating of Rodney King.
The Los Angeles Riots began on Wednesday, April 29 and officially ended five days later on Monday, May 4, though some members of the National Guard remained in the affected areas until the end of May.
Below are 21 forgotten facts about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
The L.A. Riots Were Motivated by the Rodney King Beating
Racial tensions had been simmering between the L.A. Police Department and people of color for years. But it all boiled over on March 3, 1991 after amateur cameraman George Holliday shot footage from the balcony of his Lake View Terrace apartment of a group of white police officers beating a black man with nightsticks and kicking him as 17 officers stood idly by and watched. Rodney King suffered 11 skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and other injuries.
Holliday went to the LAPD and told them about the tape, believing they would want to address the excessive force used on King. The LAPD, however, was not interested. Other people were, though. One local TV station in particular, KTLA, aired most of the video on March 4.
LAPD Chief Daryl Gates Thought the Video Was Funny
Shortly after the video of King being mercilessly beaten by four officers hit the news, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates said, “If it wasn’t for our helicopters, the lighting would’ve been horrible.” The audience at the public forum where he spoke laughed.
Within days, the violent footage was picked up by other major news networks, including CNN. The county was outraged at the brutality of the beating, racial injustice, and apathy from the LAPD.
The LAPD eventually realized they couldn’t ignore the incident.
On March 7, Rodney King was released without being charged.
One week later, Sergeant Stacey Koon, as well as officers Laurence Michael Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno, were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. A grand jury refused to indict the 17 officers who stood by and did nothing as Rodney King was pummeled by fellow officers.
There Was More to the L.A. Riots than Just Rodney King
It wasn’t just the beating of Rodney King and police brutality that ignited the L.A. riots. Racial tension had been at a tipping point for a long time.
On March 16, 1991, just days after the Rodney King video went public, Latasha Harlins, 15, an African-American schoolgirl, was shot in the back of the head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American store owner.
Du falsely accused Harlins of stealing a bottle of orange juice. After a scuffle, she threw a chair at Harlins and shot the girl in the head as sh walked away.
Du claimed self-defense, but many questioned her this: Harlins was unarmed and the store counter was between them. When investigators arrived, Harlins was holding two dollar bills in her hand.
Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but spent no time in jail. Instead, she paid a $500.00 fine.
The untimely death of Latasha Harlins further escalated the smoldering tensions between African-Americans and Asian-Americans in South Central Los Angeles. Some black activists said Harlins’ death stemmed from racism on the part of the Koreans. Meanwhile, some Koreans said there were racial tensions because certain activists had called for boycotts at a number of Korean-owned stores.
April 29, 1992: Officers Acquitted and L.A. Riots Explode
At about 3:15 p.m. local time on April 29, 1992, a mostly white jury in Ventura County acquitted the four white LAPD officers of beating Rodney King. The response to the not guilty verdict was immediate, with hundreds of protesters forming outside LAPD headquarters in downtown L.A. chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
Roughly half an hour after the verdict was read, police responded to reports that growing crowds were harassing motorists (throwing beer cans, hitting cars) at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues in predominately black South Central Los Angeles.
The violence escalated and spread to areas throughout the city.
LAPD Chief Gates Ignores Riots, Attends Fundraiser
In the early crucial hours of the L.A. riots, when police were attempting to defend the city and potentially could have stopped the rioting, Gates left the Parker Center, the then headquarters of the LAPD, to attend a fundraiser in Brentwood aimed at defeating an upcoming police reform ballot measure.
Gates, whom many saw as the poster boy of police brutality, racism, arrogance, and corruption, was forced to resign following the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Reginald Denny: White Trucker in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
LAPD were quickly overwhelmed in some areas of the city and retreated, allowing the level of violence to explode.
Reginald Denny, 33, was driving his 18-wheeler when he decided to take a tried-and-true shortcut off the Santa Monica Freeway down Normandie Avenue. Heading down the road, his rig crossed Florence and Normandie, the flashpoint of the L.A. riots.
An angry mob of black rioters rushed the truck and pulled him out of the cab, beating him to within an inch of his life. The attack was caught on live TV.
The beating only ended after Damian Monroe Williams took a cinder block and bashed it over Denny’s skull, fracturing it in 91 places. Denny lay bleeding on the ground; rioters stood around laughing.
Four South Central residents, who watched the incident unfold on live TV, raced to the scene. Bobby Green, Lei Yuille, Titus Murphy, and Terri Barnett grabbed Denny and put him back into his cab. Green, who was a part-time truck driver, drove Denny to a nearby hospital where doctors were able to save his life.
Denny underwent years of rehabilitation therapy. Following the riots, Denny moved out of Los Angeles to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where he worked as a boat mechanic. He has since moved from Lake Havasu and chosen to lead a quiet life away from the media.
After the riots, Denny’s employer, Transit Mixed Concrete (now Cemex), gave Green a full-time job. He moved