Chain of Events Lead to Nationwide Riots
On March 3, 1991, video recordings were somewhat rare. Most people did not have a video camera, let alone one at their fingertips ready to use at a moment’s notice. Los Angelino George Holliday did have a video camera. He had it out on his balcony on the night of March 3 and what he captured would divide a nation and change policing.
What George Holliday’s camera captured that night was the beating of Rodney King. King, a career criminal had fled a DWI stop and led the LAPD on an eight-mile-long high speed vehicle pursuit. When he was finally caught, LAPD cops gave King a beating that American will never forget. The cops charged that King was resisting arrest and did not want to get on the ground with someone potentially high on PCP. King and his lawyers claimed that after the vehicle chase, there was no resistance.
Whatever the truth was, the video made it into the hands of the public and to say it didn’t look good is an understatement. The beginning of the video was intentionally omitted by media outlets, but the minutes long beating horrified most of the people who saw it. The charges against King were dropped and prosecutors turned their attention to the cops who beat King.
The very public trial of four LAPD officers captivated the country. When on April 29, 1992 all four were found not guilty, Los Angeles erupted. The riots ensued were some of the worst in American history. They lasted six days and left a swath of burned-out destruction through Los Angeles. In total, 63 people were killed, 1,383 were injured, and LAFD responded to over 7,000 fires. Smaller riots occurred in major cities around the country.
President Bush had to call out the National Guard, the Army, and the Marines to quell the violence. He also promised to bring a civil rights violation investigation against the officers involved. On August 4th 1992, a federal grand jury indicted the officers for civil rights violations despite their acquittal in state court. Two of the four officers were convicted of violating the rights of Rodney King and sentenced to 30 months in prison.