SATURDAY, APRIL 29TH MARKS the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but perhaps the true genesis to the violence that would forever change the city and its controversial police department dates back to little more than a year earlier.
On the evening of March 3, 1991, what should have been a routine traffic stop on a San Fernando Valley freeway escalated into an altercation whose image would be as ingrained in America’s social and political conscience as anything ever produced by Hollywood.
Unaware they were being filmed by an amateur cameraman, four white LAPD officers beat an African-American motorist named Rodney King. The 12-minute video was aired that night by a local TV station, giving Angelenos and the rest of the world a glimpse of shocking behavior from those sworn to protect and serve.
“That day put in motion the forces that changed and dramatically transformed Los Angeles, the LAPD and many of our institutions,” says Bernard Kinsey, who helped lead Rebuild Los Angeles, the economic redevelopment agency formed after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“The city would never be the same.”
Those riots erupted April 29, 1992, hours after the four officers charged with the use of excessive force were acquitted by a predominantly white jury in Simi Valley.
“Ultimately, the (minority) community felt that it needed to get justice and sadly, people took it into their own hands,” says Danny Bakewell Sr., a former civil rights activist who now is publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel.
“We don’t condone that, but we certainly do understand that. You can only suppress and oppress a people for so long.”
In three days of violence that spread from South Los Angeles to other parts of the city, 53 people were killed and nearly 2,400 were hurt. Looting, vandalism and arson resulted in an estimated $1 billion in damage.
In the midst of it, King made a public appearance and broadcast his now-famous plea: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”