This Saturday, April 29, the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots will take place, marking a turbulent time in Black American history. The riots were ignited as a result of the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who beat Black motorist Rodney King to a pulp in 1991.
Tensions between the LAPD and communities of color have been high for decades and came to a boiling point in the wake of the trial of Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Michael Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno, all of whom were indicted on March 15, 1991 by a city grand jury.
Soon after the trial’s fateful verdict, chaos ensued in the streets and was essentially viewed in live time by most of the world. Media coverage of the riots revealed an especially brutal beating of white trucker Reginald Denny, and Mayor Tom Bradley swiftly called for a state of emergency.
Gov. Pete Wilson called in the California National Guard with assistance from the U.S. Army and Marines. Over 9.000 troops took to the streets on April 30 and instilled an area-wide sundown curfew. The violent clashes and looting continued with King pleading for calm by way of his infamous “can we all get along” statement.
By May 4, over people were dead, thousands injured, and the city suffered $1 billion in damages. Between 11,000 and 12,000 people were arrested with many of those not connected to the riots.
The officers were indicted once more by a federal grand jury in August 1992 for violating King’s civil rights. The trials began in February 1993, ending in April of that year. In the end, Koon and Powell were both given 30 months in prison for their role in the beating. Juries failed to indict 17 other officers who stood by and watched King get beaten.
Although he sought $56 million in damages, the city awarded King just $3.8 million. In later years, King quietly moved into obscurity but resurfaced with a 2012 biography detailing his account of the events. In June of the same year, King was found dead in swimming pool.
He was 47.
Ironically, the anniversary happens as the relationship between police and Black communities across the nation remains strained. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and similar groups signal that there exists a wide chasm in the connection between protector and oppressor.