Los Angeles Riots (April 29, 1992) - History Key

Los Angeles Riots (April 29, 1992)

Known as the Rodney King Riots, the uprising from Los Angeles had been triggered by a brutal arrest of an African-American. It lasted 3 days and during the riots 63 people lost their life, more than 2,300 were badly injured and more than 3,000 buildings were damaged. Some of the American press considers the Los Angeles riots from 1992 are the largest interracial revolts in more than a century.

A burning building LA
A burning building © Ted Soqui/ Corbis/ Image Source: The Daily Beast

How it all started?

On March 3, 1991 Rodney King was car chased by four police officers before stopping. He was detained in Lakeview Terrace where he was beaten brutally, leaving him with a fractured skull and cheekbone. The entire scene was caught on camera by George Holliday, a Lakeview resident.

Holliday forwarded the footage to a local station and within days the filming was airing on all major TV stations. Few days later, the four police officers accused for assaulting King and filing false police reports. In February 1992 the trial commenced and the verdict was given on April 29: all four officers were acquitted of charges in the King case.

Riots exploded in less than 24 hours

The racial tensions were too intense and this specific verdict was the final trigger of a major outbreak. Angry protesters took the streets right away and by the end of the day locals attacked passing drivers and forced the Los Angeles Police Department officers to retreat. Also news helicopters caught on camera brutal beatings between protesters and white drivers from the area.

Rioters overturned a parking attendant booth near Parker Center
Rioters overturned a parking attendant booth near Parker Center © Ted Soqui/ Corbis/ Image Source: The Daily Beast

In a matter of hours, South and Central Los Angeles was looking like a war zone. Protesters firebombed thousands of buildings, smashed windows turning Los Angeles into an “urban flame”. Pete Wilson, the California Governor had declared a state of emergency and ordered the intervention of National Guard soldiers before the next day. Because the risk was way too high, the next day schools, mail service, professional sports games, businesses were closed.

The charred remains of an apartment building at Olympic Blvd at Albany St
The charred remains of an apartment building at Olympic Blvd at Albany St. © Ted Soqui/ Corbis/ Image Source: The Daily Beast

The first day of May was marked by Rodney King. He appeared on TV asking for the mayhem to stop quoting: “Can we all get along?” In the same day, President George H.W. Bush made a press statement in which he urged people to stop the protests. On May 2 the riots had largely quelled, but it needed about 6,000 National Guardsmen and 4,000 federal troops and Marines.

Burned Buildings in LA, 1991
Burned Buildings in LA, 1991 © Mick Taylor/ Image Source: Wikipedia

L.A. recovered fast

Mayor Bradley lifted the citywide curfew on May 4 and citizens resumed their daily activities. On May 9 the most of the federal troops left the city, though some soldiers stayed until the end of the month.
The final results after the riots included 63 deaths, 2,300 injuries and about 10,000 arrests. More than 3,000 buildings were burned and destroyed producing a total damage of $1 billion. Between 20,000 and 40,000 people lost their jobs because more than 3,000 businesses were affected. Los Angeles was quickly “recovered” after the riots. Governor Wilson and Mayor Bradley managed to attract about $400 million from financial institutions in businesses investments.

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