Life

25 years later, only the riot gear has changed

After four police officers were acquitted of any criminal charges in the beating of Rodney King, protestors took to the streets. L.A. Burning tells the story.

Executive producer of L.A. Burning John Singleton.

Contributed

Executive producer of L.A. Burning John Singleton.

THE SHOW: L.A. Burning (A&E)
THE MOMENT: The riot begins

April 29, 1992. Four Los Angeles police officers are acquitted of any criminal charges in the beating of Rodney King, even though a videotape was viewed by the world. Disbelieving, enraged protestors flood the intersection of Florence and Normandy streets.

Police try to quell the crowd. Two protestors are arrested. Furious onlookers begin smashing car windows and looting the corner liquor store. Lieutenant Michael Moulin orders his cops to pull out.

Photographer Bart Bartholomew, who is white, takes pictures of the cruisers pulling away. But in a cold second, the crowd turns on him. Someone smashes a two-by-four into his face, breaking his jaw. Neighbourhood resident Tim Goldman escorts Bartholomew to his car and waves away the protesters who jump on its hood. Bartholomew pulls away. But the riot continues for two days.

I lived in L.A. then, and it doesn’t feel like 25 years ago; it feels like yesterday. But five separate docs have been made to mark the anniversary. This one, executive-produced by the director John Singleton, interviews participants about then and now.

What’s chillingly obvious is that the racial profiling that set the protest aflame hasn’t changed – witness the ongoing murders of black men by police. What’s changed is the riot gear. Notorious L.A. police chief Daryl Gates grievously underestimated public anger in ‘92, and sent his cops in unprotected. That’s the only mistake that police all over the U.S. have corrected.

Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Monday through Thursday.

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