Nineteen years ago today LAPD officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno stood trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force for the brutal beating of Rodney King, a parolee who was pulled over by the CHP for speeding and reckless driving.
All four officers were acquitted on the charges of assault and the jury deadlocked on Powell's excessive force charge.
And Los Angeles went bugfuck.
Six days later fifty-three people were dead, 2000 people injured. Around 3600 fires had been set destroying 1100 buildings costing between 800 million and a billion dollars in damages. The California National Guard came in to set up checkpoints and enforce curfews.
The cause of the riots is not simple and is debated to this day. Racial tensions, money, politics, an Us vs Them mindset between the police and the community. Like all riots it shifted rapidly from any sort of political protest to blatant looting, making it easy to dismiss real world problems as common thuggery.
My memories of the event are chaotic at best. It was nineteen years ago, after all. I can't remember last week. Hell, I forget my own fucking birthday sometimes.
But here are a few things:
- Traffic jams on Lincoln, people getting out of their cars to help direct and move cars out of the way because all of the police were somewhere else on tac alert. Ambulances weaving through the gridlock of cars. Better route than the one I had planned, which went by the burning shopping mall.
- Standing in line at an almost empty grocery store talking to a Vietnam Vet who was there when the U.S. pulled out. Looking around, shaking his head and saying it reminded him of Saigon. Not an encouraging conversation.
- Driving down to USC to help a near stranger get her stuff and get the hell out of there after she tells me about the dead guy in front of her dorm.
- Friend of mine in the National Guard called up for duty and stuck in South L.A. with a gun, but no ammunition. Hey, at least the gangbangers giving him shit across the street were locked and loaded.
- Paramedics getting shot. Guys on rooftops with shotguns.
- Thinking I was well away from any of the crap going on when my roommate turns on the television and says, "Huh. Isn't that right down the street?" And then hearing gunfire in the distance.
In all, I got off light. No one I knew was pulled out of their truck and beaten, or shot at, or stabbed. Nobody had their car stolen, or their house broken into. For the most part it swept right past me.
But for a lot of people it didn't.
We're a different city now, but not so different that something like this couldn't happen again. There's just as much rage, just as much as poverty. Our unemployment rate hovers just over 12%.
Nineteen years on and we're still a powder keg.