Little Bits of History

Rodney King

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 29, 2013
National Guard during the LA Riots

National Guard during the LA Riots

April 29, 1992: Four Los Angeles police officers are acquitted and rioting erupts in the streets. Rodney King was stopped on March 3, 1991 for speeding. He resisted arrest after he had been chased for 8 miles. A California Highway Patrol officer had pulled a gun on the obviously intoxicated driver. Sgt. Stacy Koon intervened. King was hit with a taser (50,000 volts of electricity) that should have stopped him. He got up and was tasered again. He got up again. It was at this point an amateur videographer started filming.

The four police believed King was not only drunk, but on PCP or phencyclidine, a psychoactive drug rendering one immune to pain, delusional, and violent. With video running, King charged Officer Lawrence Powell. Powell struck wildly with his baton. The next 10 seconds were both blurred and edited from TV newscasts. They showed King violently resisting. The rest of the video, the part seen all over the world, showed 4 police (3 Caucasian and 1 Hispanic) using extreme force to subdue an African-American.

The trial was held in Simi Valley, California and the police were acquitted. Riots broke out in LA. They built to fever pitch for two days, but lasted for several more. First the National Guard and eventually federal troops were brought in to restore order. In all, 53 people were killed and 2,383 injured during the rioting. There was between $800 million and $1 billion in property damage. There were 3,600 – 7,000 fires set (depending on sources). At least 3,100 businesses and 1,100 buildings were destroyed. Many Korean and other Asian businesses were targeted by the raging crowd. Over 10,000 arrests were made.

One of the most horrific videos taken during the riots showed a truck driver being dragged from his truck and beaten unmercifully by the mob. Helicopter video showed Reginald Denny being further assaulted as he lay unconscious in the street. Denny survived but even after years of rehabilitation, he suffers from neurological deficits resulting from the attack. One of his assailants was later imprisoned. Several other motorists were also attacked by the mob. King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil case. He was arrested again in May 1991 and July 1995. He underwent alcohol treatment in 1993. In August 2003, while driving drunk, he was again fleeing from police when he ran his SUV into a house.

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” – Rodney King on May 1, 1992 at the height of the rioting

“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“You can’t just lecture the poor that they shouldn’t riot or go to extremes. You have to make the means of legal redress available.” – Harold H. Greene

“Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out everyday: Massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without hating each other to death?” – Emile M. Cioran

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Rodney King was unable to control his drinking and drug use, even though he was a part of the show, Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. He was engaged to Cynthia Kelly in 2010. She was one of the jurors in King’s civil suit against the City of Los Angeles. As he was awarded $3.8 million, his lawyers were given $1.7 million in addition to cover their fees. King unsuccessfully attempted to sue the lawyers because he thought the money should have been his. On June 17, 2012 King was found on the bottom of his swimming pool. His fiancé called 911 and they attempted to revive him. King was pronounced dead at the hospital and the autopsy showed accidental drowning with alcohol and cocaine as contributing factors.

Also on this day: What’s the Word? – In 1852 the third most popular book in the world is first published.
Free, Free at Last – In 1945, Dachau was liberated.
Slide – In 1903, a landslide down Turtle Mountain took place.

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