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Hullabaloo


Sunday, April 29, 2012

 
It was 20 years ago today ...

by digby



...that the Rodney King riots broke out here in Los Angeles. It was a terrible thing, one that should have been predicted by the authorities in the event the police were not held liable for the videotaped beating of Rodney King. Unlike today, we didn't have a lot of home video of police incidents. And the police hadn't developed a whole set of arguments about why you should believe them over your lying eyes. People were stunned.

In case you've forgotten the details, here's the dry account of what happened, via Wikipedia.

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers were driving west on the Foothill Freeway (I-210) through the Lake View Terrace neighborhood of Los Angeles. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) attempted to initiate a traffic stop. A high-speed pursuit ensued with speeds estimated at up to 115 mph first over freeways and then through residential neighborhoods. When King came to a stop, CHP Officer Timothy Singer and his wife, CHP Officer Melanie Singer, ordered the occupants under arrest.

After two passengers were placed in the patrol car, five Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers (Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano) attempted to subdue King, who came out of the car last. In a departure from the usual procedure, which is to tackle and cuff a suspect, King was tasered, kicked in the head, beaten with PR-24 batons for over one minute, then tackled and cuffed. The officers claimed that King was under the influence of PCP at the time of arrest, which caused him to be very aggressive and violent towards the officers. The video showed that he was crawling on the ground during the beating and that the police made no attempt to cuff him.

A subsequent test for the presence of PCP turned up negative. The incident was captured on a camcorder by resident George Holliday from his apartment in the vicinity. The tape was roughly ten minutes long. While the case was presented to the court, clips of the incident were not released to the public.

In a later interview, King, who was on parole from prison on a robbery conviction and who had past convictions for assault, battery and robbery, said that, being on parole, he feared apprehension and being returned to prison for parole violations so he decided to resist apprehension.

The footage of King being beaten by police while lying on the ground became a focus for media attention and a rallying point for activists in Los Angeles and around the United States. Coverage was extensive during the initial two weeks after the incident: the Los Angeles Times published forty-three articles about the incident, the New York Times published seventeen articles, and the Chicago Tribune published eleven articles.Eight stories appeared on ABC News, including a sixty-minute special on Primetime Live


Today there are similar beatings and taserings posted on Youtube constantly and when commenters aren't laughing, they're making excuses for the cops, usually telling people that if they don't want a beating or electro-shock they should obey the police. (These are almost always the same people who describe themselves as anti-government, interestingly.) It's not that it didn't happen before, of course. It's just that those of us who weren't commonly subject to this violence never saw it.

In any case, when the police were found not guilty in a trial held in their special enclave of Simi Valley (home of the Reagan Library, fwiw)the authorities were unprepared for what happened.

I happened to be watching TV at work when this unfolded:

The acquittals of the four accused Los Angeles Police Department officers came at 3:15 pm local time. By 3:45, a crowd of more than 300 people had appeared at the Los Angeles County Courthouse protesting the verdicts passed down a half an hour earlier. Between 5 and 6 pm, a group of two dozen officers, commanded by LAPD Lt. Michael Moulin, confronted a growing African-American crowd at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles. Outnumbered, these officers retreated. A new group of protesters appeared at Parker Center, the LAPD's headquarters, by about 6:30 pm.

At approximately 6:45 pm, Reginald Oliver Denny, a white truck driver who stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, was dragged from his vehicle and severely beaten by a mob of local black residents as a TV news helicopter hovered above, piloted by reporter/pilot Bob Tur, who broadcast live pictures of the attack, including a concrete brick that was thrown by 'Football' Damian Williams that struck Denny in the temple, causing a near-fatal seizure. As Tur continued his reporting, it was clear that local police had deserted the city.


Bob Tur,who filmed the Reginald Denny beating, talked about that day:



The rest is history. I'll revisit the events over the course of the next few days. It was something to live through, I'll say that. I wish I could also say that it couldn't happen again, but it wouldn't be true.

In case you were wondering:

Williams escaped the most serious charges against him of attempted murder, assault and aggravated mayhem and was convicted instead of only four misdemeanors and simple mayhem.

Williams was released after serving four years of his 10-year sentence, but soon found himself back in jail. He was convicted of participating in the 2000 murder of an L.A. drug dealer, and in 2003 was sentenced to 46 years in prison. He is currently serving his sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison, according to California Corrections Department officials.



Update: Newstalgia has the first news report that conveys the shock that people felt at the verdict. It also features the first lame press conference from the Los Angeles authorities. (And I'm reminded of just what an ass Chief Daryl Gates was ...)



*Put some change in the tip jar to keep Newstalgia up and running, if you can.

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