L.A. Riots Exploded After Rodney King Verdict

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

(This is an introduction to a three-part series in remembering the L.A. riots 25 years later.)

On March 3, 1991, during an arrest, African-American Rodney King was surrounded by police officers and beaten so severely that he was left with a fractured cheek-bone, broken leg and 11 broken bones at the base of his skull.

Much of the beating was captured on videotape by a witness on a nearby balcony, and then the footage was sent to television station KTLA. Soon, the beating was playing across the country repeatedly, and four of the officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force.

Rodney King. Photo: Bart Bartholomew
Rodney King.
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

The tape and its exposure of police brutality shocked many Americans, and the officers were subsequently tried and acquitted in a Simi Valley court on April 29, 1992. This acquittal appalled many people, including members of the black community, who couldn’t understand how even with a videotape showing 56 baton swings, the police escaped criminal consequences.

That night, anger exploded outside a liquor store at the corner of Florence and Normandie in South L.A., and the police arrived and then quickly retreated. Instead of returning with backup and full riot gear, the police let the fury burn out of control for hours. More than 11,000 people were eventually arrested and more than 50 died in one of the worst riots in U.S. history.

The National Guard, U.S. Army and Marines stepped in to restore order, and the federal government also chose to try the four police officers in a second trial for abusing King’s civil rights. In that trial, two of the men were found guilty.

Soon after King’s beating, the Christopher Commission began investigating the LAPD and found that there were “a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force against the public.”

Since then, both the broader community and the police have instituted some measures to reduce these problems, although in recent years various deadly incidents have again brought the issue to the forefront, both locally and across the country.

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