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Racial Reverberations - The 1992 LA Riots

Jan 30, 2008
On April 29, 1992, in response to the acquittal of the police officers that beat Rodney King, riots broke out on the streets of L.A. Though there were other factors that led to the riots, like high unemployment in the area, the case verdict against the instigating police officers was the straw that broke the camel's back. Though case was highly publicized, it was not the only excessive force going on at the time.

There was a widespread opinion that the Los Angeles Police Department was guilty of racial profiling as well as excessive force. The Rodney King incident brought this issue to the forefront because it was caught on tape by a bystander. The riots following the acquittal went on for several days, though the first few were significantly more brutal. People looted and set parts of the city on fire while the nation watched in shock.

This, of course, left many injured and killed over 50 people. Thousands were arrested for looting and criminals took the opportunity to wreak havoc in the streets. The riots started as peaceful protests in the courthouse, but soon angry crowds swamped the LPD headquarters. Several people were beat severely in the midst of the rioting, and people began to light fire to businesses in the area. Rioters lit cars on fire to block off intersections while others began instead stealing cars and beating their drivers. When paramedics arrived at the scene, they were shot. Fire officials stopped sending firemen into the scene because they would face personal danger. The city was in flames.

After a few days of unchecked chaos, state guard units began to come into the city. The nation was calling for peace. Even Rodney King, shaken from his experience, called for everyone to get along. The National Guard was in the area by the fourth day and the public began to calm down. There were some minor violent outbursts in the days to come but for the most part the city was at peace.

The riots resulted in a retrial for the police officers. A year later, after pressure from the public and civil rights groups, a federal jury oversaw a second trial. This time two officers were found guilty, the other two still acquitted of all charges. However, after all was said and done none of the officers remained with the LAPD.

This event was a very bloody example of how the judicial system is influenced by the people. Though the riots were horrible, if it hadn't been for them, this lurking injustice in society might have gone unchecked.
About the Author
Ian Spellfield explores the most frequently used African American names through the lens of history in his blog, Black Ghetto Baby Names.
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