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The days Los Angeles burned, the 1992 riots legacy 30 years later

“One of the most astounding things about the 1992 Los Angeles riots was the response of the LAPD, which is to say no response at all”

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Reginald Denny's truck stopped in the middle of the intersection of Florence and Normandie (Screenshot/LNS/KCOP13)

LOS ANGELES – It was a Wednesday, a verdict from the jury in Simi Valley in the case of four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in the brutal beating of a Black man after a felony traffic stop the previous year was expected at any moment and tensions were running high in LA’s minority neighborhoods.

Rodney King, who was on parole for robbery, was beaten by LAPD officers during his arrest after a high-speed chase on March 3, 1991, for driving while intoxicated on the 210 freeway. When LAPD and California Highway Patrol cruisers finally stopped him, King was ordered out of the car.

What happened next was caught on video by a bystander as four LAPD officers then kicked him repeatedly and beat him with their batons for approximately 15 minutes. The video showed that more than a dozen other officers stood by, watching and some even were commenting on the beating.

King’s injuries resulted in skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage.

The graphic video of the attack was broadcast into homes in Southern California and then across the nation and worldwide provoking outrage and calls for the immediate removal of then LAPD Chief Darryl Gates.

Emotions ran so high that the trial of the four officers who were arrested on brutality and other criminal charges was ordered moved to Ventura County after a state appellate court panel ruled that political fallout and community anger was such that the officers could not get a fair hearing in Los Angeles because of “excessive publicity and a highly charged political climate,” the Los Angeles Times noted, and so the trial was moved. Simi Valley was more convenient geographically than Alameda County, a venue the prosecution preferred.

The four police officers indicted for brutalizing black motorist Rodney King in a videotaped attack are shown in these police mug shots taken March 14, 1991. From left, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, Officer Theodore J. Briseno, Officer Timothy E. Wind and Officer Laurence Powell. Two served time in prison and all four lost their careers. (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office)

The trial got underway in early February of 1992 and in the last week of April the jury got the case. On April 29, 1992, a jury consisting of 12 residents from the distant suburbs of Ventura County — nine white, one Latino, one biracial, one Asian — found the four officers not guilty.

The acquittals were announced around 3 p.m. and less than three hours later, the unrest began.

A news helicopter piloted by Trans reporter-photo journalist Hanna Zoey Tur, who was then working for Los Angeles News Service/KCOP 13 TV, caught what arguably became the epic ground center in what would become a series of moving crowds of rioters spreading civil disturbances and massive property damage over the seven day period starting that afternoon on the 29th, lasting until May 4, 1992 when authorities ultimately regained control of both the City and County.

The civil unrest had commenced with gatherings of angered Angelenos especially Black residents not long after the verdict had been announced. But by 5:30 pm mobs had started to roam the streets of South Central LA with some limited property damage and vandalism. Then at around 6:46 pm, a truck entered the intersection at Florence and Normandie.

Tur and her Los Angeles News Service/KCOP 13 chopper crew caught what happened next and the live feed from the helicopter was broadcast to the nation and the world. A group of Black men who came to be known as the “L.A. Four” grabbed the 39-year-old truck driver, Reginald Oliver Denny and dragged him out of the truck.

Denny was beaten with fists, kicked, and struck with a cinder block, one man hurled a five-pound oxygenator at Denny’s head and the other kicked him and hit him with a claw hammer. While the beating continued Tur and her chopper continued to circle the scene Tur noting on air that there were virtually no LAPD units within sight of the attack.

After the beating ended, some men threw beer bottles at the unconscious body and a man searched Denny’s back pockets, taking his wallet. The attackers were chased off by locals who ran to assist the badly injured truck driver.

Denny suffered a fractured skull and impairment of his speech and his ability to walk, for which he underwent years of rehabilitative therapy.

The rioting spread to other sections of the city as residents set fires, looted and destroyed liquor stores, grocery stores, retail shops and fast food restaurants. Light-skinned motorists — both white and Latino — were targeted; some were pulled out of their cars and beaten.

There was more than the Rodney King case that exacerbated racial tensions in LA that Spring.

The same month as Rodney King’s beating the year before, a Korean store owner in South Los Angeles had shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American girl named Latasha Harlins, who was accused of trying to steal orange juice. It was later discovered Harlins was clutching money to pay for the juice when she was killed. The store owner received probation and a $500 fine, NPR reported in 2017.

The incident heightened tensions between Koreans and African-Americans, and intensified the black community’s frustration with the criminal justice system.

The other contributing factor was that the LAPD was seen by the city’s minority populations as little more than an army of occupation. In a 2017 in an interview with NPR’s Grigsby Bates, lawyer and civil rights activist Connie Rice said; “What we had was aggressive paramilitary policing with a culture that was mean and cruel, racist and abusive of force in communities of color, particularly poor communities of color.” 

“It was an open campaign to suppress and contain the black community,” she added noting; “LAPD didn’t even feel it was necessary to distinguish between pruning out a suspected criminal where they had probable cause to stop and just stopping African-American judges and senators and prominent athletes and celebrities simply because they were driving nice cars.”

When 911 calls about the violence started coming in, LAPD units were not deployed immediately. In fact LAPD Chief Gates announced early in the afternoon of April 29 that his officers had the situation under control.

“One of the most astounding things about the 1992 Los Angeles riots was the response of the LAPD, which is to say no response at all,” says author Joe Domanick, who has studied and written about the riots, in an interview with NPR’s Grigsby Bates.

That night, Gates went to speak at a fundraiser in West Los Angeles and reportedly ordered cops to retreat. Police did not respond to incidents of looting and violence around the city until almost three hours after the original rioting broke out.

For the rest of the night, the scene at Florence and Normandie repeated itself with rioters across the city. Just before 9 p.m. that night, Mayor Tom Bradley called for a state of emergency, and California Gov. Pete Wilson ordered 2,000 National Guard troops to report to the city.

On May 1, the third day of the riots, Rodney King himself attempted to publicly appeal to Los Angeles residents to stop fighting. He stood outside a Beverly Hills courthouse with his lawyer and asked “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

Ultimately there were 50 plus riot-related deaths including 10 people who were shot and killed by LAPD officers and National Guardsmen. More than 2,000 people were injured, and nearly 6,000 alleged looters and arsonists were arrested.

Screenshot/KNBC 4 Los Angeles, April 30, 1992

More than 1,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, and approximately 2,000 Korean-run businesses were also damaged or destroyed. In all, approximately $1 billion worth of property was destroyed.

The Arlington, Virginia based think-tank the Rand Corporation found of those arrested during the riots, 36 percent were African-Americans and 51 percent were Latinos.

The Rodney King beating and the riots that came out of social issues that still have not been resolved as most recently evidenced by the Black Lives Matter movement propelled by ongoing killings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement agencies across the nation.

The relationship between the Black community and law enforcement remains frigid. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, Black people make up less than 10 percent of the population in L.A. County, but 24 percent of law enforcement killings.

The economic disparities that concerned Black people in 1992 also persist today, including vast wealth inequality that affects multiple nonwhite groups. Remnants of the uprising still stand in the form of wrecked buildings never repaired.  

The Los Angeles Times noted on Thursday that for all the strides that have been made since the 1992 L.A. riots, many Angelenos believe their city may still be a powder keg, according to a survey by the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

The share of L.A. residents who expect that another wave of “riots and disturbances” will occur has hit the highest peak since the survey launched in 1997, with 68% saying it was either very or somewhat likely. Nearly 40% believe race relations in the city have worsened over the last four years.

Cecil Rhambo, the police chief at the Los Angeles International Airport, who is currently running to replace Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in an interview with NBC News journalist Curtis Bunn said that some elements of Black life have improved over the last three decades, but not so much that an unpopular verdict involving a Black person and white law enforcement would not ignite another explosion of emotions onto the streets.

“There’s always a potential for riots or an uprising in the future,” he said. “Right now, inflation is running amok, largely in part due to what’s happening around the world that we can’t control. Covid hasn’t gone away. And so, I think there’s always an opportunity for things to get so bad that people repeat history.” 

That history can be repeated, Rhambo said, because the potential for violence against Black people by law enforcement — with no one held accountable — remains strong.

“We just want to stop being mistreated by the police,” he said. “It’s just a basic common decency of how we treat people. That was the tipping point in 1992. If the George Floyd verdict had been different, I would not have been surprised if something happened. In the 1965 Watts riots and in ’92, it was the perfect storm that led to the violence. We have a perfect storm going on now that creates this powder keg. So there’s always a potential for that in the future.” 

27 Photos of the Horrific 1992 Los Angeles Riots:

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Additional reporting from NPR, The Los Angeles Times, and NBC News Los Angeles

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Los Angeles

LA-DWP & Mayor Garcetti announce new outdoor watering restrictions

Sprinkler watering will be allowed Monday & Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday & Sunday

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City of Los Angeles (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – In a press conference Tuesday Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and officials from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) announced that outdoor watering in the city will be restricted to two days a week starting June 1.

The announcement comes as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declared an unprecedented water shortage emergency two weeks ago, imposing restrictions after MWD’s board voted to adopt the emergency measures to “reduce non-essential water use” in certain areas. Cities and smaller water suppliers that get water from MWD are required to start restricting outdoor watering to one day a week, or to find other ways to cut usage to a new monthly allocation limit.

LADWP

In Tuesday’s press conference Mayor Garcetti said L.A.’s two-day limit was still more lenient than the one imposed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has ordered many of its member agencies to restrict outdoor watering to once a week.

Sprinkler watering will be allowed on Monday and Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday and Sunday.

For more information visit the LADWP webpage here.

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Los Angeles

Hollywood residents angered over Sunset Blvd. homeless encampment

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins

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Screenshot via KABC 7

HOLLYWOOD – For those who live in the Hollywood neighborhood that surrounds the homeless encampment on Sunset Boulevard at Martel Avenue, the last seventeen months have been aggravating.

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins which at times has resulted in multiple break-ins on the same vehicles.

“We’ve had tons of break-ins. Our garage has been broken into five times. Cars are vandalized. Mail is stolen,” local resident Lawrence S., who lives near the encampment, told KABC 7. “Our building, the building across the street, the building across the street that way — there’s just rampant crime.

“I actually had my sister in-law come to visit for the first time and she parked across the street in broad daylight and within 30 seconds, someone from the homeless encampment was down swinging a club at her. The violence is escalating and we keep asking the City Council, what is it going to take? Do we need to wait till someone’s murdered?”

The encampment is located at 7323 Sunset Blvd. and surrounds an AT&T building. It’s located in L.A. City Councilwoman Nithya Raman’s district who toured the encampment in 2021, joined by residents, including Terry S.

“She promised. She said that she would be adamantly enforcing ADA compliance. That she’s looking into setting up a safe camping location for the campers. Never happened,” Terry S. told KABC 7.

“In August, 41.18, an ordinance, passed and we were very hopeful because finally we thought that they would have some tools at their disposal,” Lawrence S. said. “But the city councilwoman is only enforcing a part of that ordinance, which is the Care Plus Cleanup program. However, she’s only doing it when she feels like enforcing it, which is three times in 17 months.”

Residents say that the city’s efforts to clean up and clear out the encampment only results in the homeless displaced for a couple of days sometimes less and then they return to reestablish the encampment. This past Thursday the city again clean and cleared the encampment.

While an KABC 7 camera and reporter Josh Haskell were working on the story homeless people were in the background reestablishing their presence across the street.

KABC 7 reached out to Councilwoman Nithya Raman whose office responded with a media statement:

“This encampment is a priority for our office, and our Homelessness Team has been consistently bringing services and working with the individuals living at this location. LAHSA outreach teams most recently identified seven people living here and together we worked to move three of them into shelter just yesterday as part of our Encampment-to-Home project, which has already moved 43 people in Hollywood indoors. Additionally, a cleanup took place at this location yesterday and we are working to move the remaining individuals into shelter as soon as beds become available. We are in continued communication with the residents in the neighborhood regarding the status of our progress as we move forward.”

Residents upset with LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman over Sunset Boulevard homeless encampment:

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Lawsuit against USC in sexual abuse case of 80 male students settled

“The settlement is another step toward closure for our clients who finally feel a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up”

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Engemann Student Health Center (Photograph courtesy of USC by Dietmar Quistorf)

LOS ANGELES – Attorneys representing 80 individuals who filed lawsuits and made claims against the University of Southern California and former USC men’s health physician Dennis Kelly for allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment have reached a global settlement according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mikayla Kellogg.

“The settlement was achieved through the persistence and bravery of our clients who had the strength to come forward to share the harrowing details of their experiences at the USC Student Health Center and the determination to hold USC accountable for its failure to protect its students,” said Kellogg, partner at Kellogg & Van Aken last week. “The settlement is another step toward closure for our clients who finally feel a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up.”

The lawsuit was filed in February 2019 in Los Angeles Superior Court by six former University of Southern California student alumni, all gay or bisexual, alleges that Dr. Dennis A. Kelly discriminated against and battered them while he was serving as the only full-time men’s sexual health doctor at the Engemann Student Health Center on the USC campus.

Since the original filing, 74 additional individuals have come forward, bringing the total number of claimants to 80.

Kelly Van Aken, partner at Kellogg & Van Aken said, “It has been a long three years for our courageous clients who have persevered through intense scrutiny to ensure their voices have been heard. It is our hope that by taking these allegations public and speaking out on behalf of dozens of current and former students of USC, institutions entrusted with the care of vulnerable young people are forced to confront and correct the toxic and problematic cultures that allow abuse and misconduct to continue.”

Dennis Kelly was a physician at USC’s Student Health Center from 1997 to 2018. The claimants allege that Dennis Kelly used his position of trust and authority as USC’s men’s health physician to engage in sexual misconduct under the guise of medical care and disproportionately targeted LGBTQ+ patients.  They further allege that USC received complaints about Dennis Kelly’s misconduct but failed to adequately address them and continued to allow Dr. Kelly to see and treat vulnerable young students without limitation.

Kelly, 72, who resigned in August of 2018 after twenty years working at the student clinic as a primary care physician, denied any inappropriate behavior toward patients and called the lawsuit’s allegations “terribly hurtful.”

“I can’t second-guess or question anything I’ve done,” Kelly said in a phone interview February 12, 2019 with the Los Angeles Times. He added, “I know I did it all professionally and without any other motive.”

Kelly, who described himself as an openly gay physician to the paper defended his actions telling The Times that he had devoted much of his career to counseling LGBTQ patients about ways to reduce the risks of their sexual behavior.

According to Kelly, he never used the graphic terms described in the lawsuit or performed unnecessary genital exams. He said he suspected his stern warnings about behavior that put patients at risk for sexually transmitted diseases were misinterpreted as condemnation or deviance.

The court documents stated that Kelley specifically targeted USC’s gay and bisexual and male student population, “all of whom were young adults and many of whom were visiting the doctor without a parent for the first time,” alleging he subjected to “intrusive and medically unnecessary rectal examinations.”

“Dr. Kelly did not treat heterosexual men in a similar manner and did not perform rectal examinations on heterosexual men who had similar sexual practices,” the suit claimed.

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