Remembering the L.A. Riots: 20 Years Later

On April 29th, 1992 the Los Angeles riots began. The six days of rioting are considered to be a main event that reshaped Southern California.

The riots were sparked when a jury acquitted three white officers and one hispanic officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, accused of beating a black man. The beating of motorist, Rodney King, was caught on videotape following a high-speed pursuit. Thousands of people rioted after hearing the verdict.

On March 3, 1991 Rodney King and two passengers were driving through a Los Angeles neighborhood when the California Highway Patrol attempted to initiate a traffic stop. A highway pursuit began with speeds hitting 115 mph. When King came to a stop, police officers ordered the occupants under arrest.

When the two passengers were placed in the police car, five LAPD officers attempted to subdue King. In a departure from the usual procedure, which is to tackle and cuff a suspect, King was tasered, kicked in the head, beaten with PR-24 Batons for over one minute, then tackled and cuffed.

The officers claimed that King was under the influence of PCP at the time of his arrest, which caused him to be very aggressive and violent. A subsequent test for the presence of PCP turned up negative.

The riots, beginning the day of the verdicts, peaked in intensity over the next two days. Fifty-three people died during the riots, including 10 shot dead by the LAPD and the National Guard,with as many as 2,000 people injured. Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion.

The footage of King being beaten by police while lying on the ground became a focus for media attention and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States.