April 29, 1992 – A day that came as a shock. Not so much a shock at the initial event as shock at the eventual outcome. Everybody saw it – we saw it over and over; the police beating a Black motorist, caught by a video camera gazing down on the street from an apartment window, watching the episode unfold in stark black and white. The grainy images of police surrounding a figure who was already on the ground; nightsticks and repeated kicks, arm outstretched as if pleading to stop – flailing clubs would have none of it. The images, burned into our brains – one more horrific episode committed to memory, whether we wanted it or not; we weren’t forgetting for a long time.
And when the trial took place of the four police accused of the beating, whose actions were loud and clear on the video, we all assumed justice would prevail. The offending officers, those entrusted to protect and serve, were doing neither and were surely guilty – as guilty as anyone beating a person unable to get up – unable to defend themselves – unable to be convinced to stop, would be seen as guilty in the eyes of all those who witnessed it did.
So when verdicts were announced – all four were acquitted, the anger became volcanic – bubbling up and exploding. One more time, the blind eye – one more time the absence of truth – one more time the deaf ear. Not this time, and not this moment.
The anger took to the streets, using the only tool the ignored and marginalized had at their disposal; violence. And as is the case with violence in any form, it is often random – and those who were innocent became the powerless objects of that random anger. A motorist caught at the flash-point of Florence and Normandie was beaten just as senselessly as Rodney King in Simi Valley. Only the anger didn’t stop there – it spread. And for a time it was threatening to consume all of Los Angeles. To the cry of “No Justice – No Peace”.
And for the next five days the city shuddered and people were afraid it wouldn’t stop – and the sky continued to glow red at night. That was what L.A. was like 25 years ago.
Has it changed? Has any of it changed? Some say yes, while others vehemently shake their heads no. In the ensuing 25 years we’ve had many Rodney Kings – in other cities throughout the country; some more violent – and other trials and other acquittals and other shocks and more dismay. Perhaps the climate now bolsters that desire to kick and brutalize those considered “the others”.
And maybe we are destined for more red skies at night, more suffocating smoke, more beatings and shootings. I would like to hope not, but I’ve been on the planet long enough to know human nature works in mysterious ways, and hardly ever as planned.
So, as a reminder of that late afternoon, here are the first seven hours of broadcasts as the day unfolded.
You’re probably wondering, why 7 hours? Why not a 10 minute excerpt and hit all the high points? Because it wasn’t all instant, and L.A. didn’t catch fire all at once. This was an event that developed over time, from casual reports to full coverage – that’s how the day went. As word got out and the anger grew, the events escalated. And you get to hear it in real time, as it developed. In case you didn’t already know, that’s what Past Daily is all about; the uncovering and the discovery.
Twenty-five years – doesn’t seem that long ago