Saving a Palisadian’s Life While Videotaping the L.A. Riots

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

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

Tim Goldman and his best friend happened to have video cameras in hand when a riot broke out in their neighborhood.

It wasn’t just any riot either. It was the start of the 1992 L.A. riots, one of the worst riots in U.S. history, which left more than 50 dead, 2,383 injured, and $1 billion in property damage. As the night wore on, 1977 Palisades High grad Goldman, his friend and his brother, to whom Goldman had also given a video camera, happened to be the only people on the street pointing cameras at the events.

“I thought it was so surreal that I would just record it,” Goldman told the Palisades News. “Of course, I’d never been in a situation like that before. I had a camera in my hand, so I was just recording.”

The riots, which were triggered that April by the acquittal of four white police officers who had severely beaten an African American man during his arrest, had profound effects for Los Angeles and the country, but the events also were seminal for Goldman, who grew up several blocks away from the riot’s flashpoint at the corner of Florence and Normandie.

Bart Bartholomew and Tim Goldman during their reunion for the A&E documentary L.A. Burning, produced by Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton. Photo: Richard Fields, courtesy of A&E
Bart Bartholomew and Tim Goldman during their reunion for the A&E documentary L.A. Burning, produced by Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton. Photo: Richard Fields, courtesy of A&E

He became a hero that night, potentially saving the life of Palisadian Bart Bartholomew, a New York Times photographer who was the first person injured in the melee, but to some, he also became a pariah because the videotapes identified some of those who had looted stores and attacked people in the uproar. “I am always asked if I had a chance to do it again, would I?” Goldman said. “Sometimes I say ‘Yes,’ and sometimes I say ‘No’ . . . Now, most people are looking at it like it’s a part of history. Let’s learn from it. Let bygones be bygones, but there are always going to be people who criticize my role or praise my role. I can’t let that get to me.”

Strangely enough, one of the men who attacked truck driver Reginald Denny, the most famous victim during the riots, chatted with Goldman last summer, and the two compared notes on how their lives had been affected by that night. This man was probably arrested because of Goldman’s videos, but the tapes also benefited him.

“He feels that if it weren’t for my tapes, he wouldn’t be famous,” Goldman said. For Goldman, the tapes sent his life down a winding path. During recent months, the outcome has been fulfilling as he provided footage, interviews and insights for six 25th anniversary documentaries on channels ranging from ABC to A&E.

The New York Times featured six of Bart Bartholomew’s photos on the front page of its May 7, 1992 issue.
The New York Times featured six of Bart Bartholomew’s photos on the front page of its May 7, 1992 issue.

“It’s been fascinating and rewarding to be part of this documentary process—sort of a wonderful journey,” Goldman said. “Hopefully they all have the right positive message that we hope this never happens again.”

However, initially, the fallout was traumatic. Neither Goldman’s brother nor his friend wanted anything to do with the riot videos, mainly because the two were friends with a few of the people who had been recorded looting or attacking. So, Goldman, who had spent most of the 15 years after his PaliHi graduation outside of California, took charge of the tapes’ copyright.

The tapes angered not only some people in the neighborhood, but also the police, who originally didn’t portray their retreat and failure to intervene accurately, Goldman said. In fact, at one point, about 60 police officers surrounded his home and demanded the tapes.

Luckily Goldman wasn’t home at the time, and he chose not to return, not only due to this incident but because he began receiving death threats. To keep himself and his young son safe, he moved out of Los Angeles, first to Irvine, then Palmdale and eventually to Florida, where he had attended college.

Just recently, though, he has moved back to Los Angeles and into his childhood home after spending about 20 years working as an event planner in Tampa. Last month, he took some time to visit Palisades High School, where he met with Bartholomew (now a staff photographer for the News), whom he had guided to safety and defended when the riots first broke out. 

When Goldman saw Bartholomew being threatened, he decided, “I can’t see this happen; he’s defenseless.” He added, “I recognized a couple of the guys who were surrounding him. I pulled one of them off. I said, ‘Let him go. He’s just doing his job. Let him go.’”

Bartholomew made it to safety, and at the time, he never turned around to see who had helped him. The two finally got the chance to meet this year at an A&E reunion.

“Look at this guy,” Bartholomew said at Pali. “I love this guy. He saved my life … I should have been gone and he knew it.”

1977 PaliHi grad Tim Goldman with Bart Bartholomew, whom he helped save at the outbreak of the L.A. Riots. Photo: Lesly Hall Photography
1977 PaliHi grad Tim Goldman with Bart Bartholomew, whom he helped save at the outbreak of the L.A. Riots. Photo: Lesly Hall Photography

While touring his alma mater, Goldman took some time to visit special places, including the college center, where he had once picked up a postcard for the college he would eventually attend. That college was Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and there he studied aeronautics on the way to becoming an Air Force pilot.

He had gotten the bug to fly during the summer after his junior year at Pali when actor Lloyd Haynes of Room 222 provided an enrichment program for 20 inner-city youth to learn about aviation. The top student was offered flying lessons, and Goldman earned that honor.

Afterwards, Goldman continued working hard at Pali. He played football and ran track, waking up at 4:30 a.m. each day and riding a bus for 1-1/2 hours to reach school, where he often stayed for practice or other activities until the last bus got him home around 8 p.m.

Traveling to Pali was a bit like traveling to another country for Goldman, who was part of one of the first classes that included bused students. He would get off the bus and walk through the tunnel under Bowdoin Avenue to enter the world of PaliHi, where it felt like the world’s possibilities opened to him. The school broadened his horizon, inspired him to dream, and gave him a yearning to travel, he said.

“Coming to Palisades, it opened the door to all kinds of experiences,” said Goldman, who has three sisters, three cousins and a niece who followed his path to PaliHi. He remembers the view of the beach, the look of the homes, and getting to know people with different life experiences.

“You got to see how other people thought. You got to hang out with them . . . Things rub off on you. Busing had a lot to do with who I am today. I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities if I hadn’t traveled to PaliHi.”

Those opportunities led Goldman first to travel to Florida’s Daytona Beach for college at Embry-Riddle, where he majored in aeronautical studies and joined the ROTC program. His church in Los Angeles provided a partial scholarship, but the cost was a challenge for his family to pay, so in his sophomore year, he got a full-time job flipping burgers at Krystal, where he worked the late shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. five days a week.

“People were afraid my grades would suffer, but they didn’t,” Goldman said. And “that alleviated strain on my parents.”

He was eventually offered a spot at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but he turned it down to remain at Embry-Riddle. Because of his high GPA, strong test scores and valued participation in various activities, he earned a flying slot as a junior, which included both a stipend and then flying lessons as a senior.

Balancing all of his commitments meant sleeping little, but “I had a dream and I had a goal and I didn’t want to quit,” Goldman said. Five weeks after graduation in 1981, he started flight training as an officer in the Air Force, and he then spent 10 years in the service, including time flying C-130s in the Persian Gulf War and Grenada. Along the way, he traveled to the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Honduras, Panama and many European countries. 

After he retired in 1991, he returned to Los Angeles in what turned out to be the same year that Rodney King’s beating was captured on videotape.

Police brutality in Los Angeles was something that Goldman had already experienced firsthand as a young teenager, but the situation had worsened during his absence.

At 13, while walking home from the Coliseum with his friends, he pulled a fire alarm on a telephone pole as a prank. A police officer happened to see him, pulled a gun on him, and yelled at him, “If you move, I’m going to blow your mother f . . . ing head off.”

Goldman froze, and the officer handcuffed him to the telephone pole. Eventually, he was brought in handcuffs to the police station by two officers. When the officers got out, they mentioned that they would now search the back of the car to make sure he hadn’t hidden any drugs there. Their comment made Goldman laugh for a second, and in consequence, the officers came up behind him, knocked him down and punched him in the groin.

“That day, it just painted a picture of how I would feel about police officers for a very long time,” Goldman said. “I would say I didn’t like police. I’m starting to get over that feeling, but it’s taken a long time.”

When the LAPD officers were undergoing their trial for assault against King, Goldman felt certain that the videotaped footage would ensure that they were convicted, and he remembers most of the people he knew in the black community felt the same. His neighbors were well aware of certain officers, such as one they nicknamed “Hunter,” who would “pull you over and beat the hell out of you” or drop gang members off in rival gang’s territories.

“We didn’t have the cops that you see in Adam 12 or Dragnet,” Goldman said. “What we had were the cops you see in L.A. Confidential and Training Day. Those are the cops we had in South Central.”

Of course, just as people tend to portray everyone in his neighborhood during the riots as looters or attackers when many were like him and either intervened to help people or were simply bystanders, Goldman added, “There’s a lot of good cops who were tarnished by what happened too.”

Still, he recalls the sadness that enveloped friends when they learned of the verdict, and he remembers the shock he felt personally upon hearing it.

“My stomach fell to the ground; I was stunned,” said Goldman. For the community, “that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There had been other incidents out there, but things just added up. I just felt that not only myself, but others who were going to react in different ways, were just fed up with the LAPD and the system. That’s why Florence and Normandie on April 29th exploded the way it did.”


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