Films Document 25th Anniversary of L.A. Uprising

Thursday, April 27, 2017 Written by 
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Saturday, April 29 marks the 25th anniversary of the day L.A. went up in flames, after 4 LAPD officers were acquitted of severely beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King.  The videotape of King lying on the ground, as officers took turns kicking, stomping and beating him sent shockwaves around the world.  President George H.W. Bush said that watching it, made him “sick.”


The following year, all 4 officers were found not guilty of excessive force. It was a low blow, particularly within L.A.s African American community, where police brutality had been rampant for decades. 


Within minutes of the verdict, black folks took to the streets in protest. White trucker, Reginald Denny was dragged out of his big rig and viciously beaten on live TV—ironically by four black men. 


The scene at the corner of Florence and Normandie turned into an ‘Armageddon’ of violence.  Businesses were looted and burned, and a curfew was placed throughout the city.  The rioting lasted for six days, left 55 dead and more than 2,000 injured, and cost at least $1 billion in damages.  


King made a televised plea to the rioters. “Can’t we all get along?” he asked. He was eventually awarded $3.8 million after winning a civil case against the LAPD.


In 2012, King was found dead in his backyard swimming pool.   Following the riots, Denny moved hundreds of miles away from Los Angeles to Lake Havasu, Ariz., where he worked as a boat mechanic.  He has since moved out of that residence, and his whereabouts today are unknown.


Six documentaries of the L.A. uprising are airing on cable and network television to commemorate the anniversary of this critical chapter in L.A.’s history.  According to Yahoo News, each film looks at the riots through a different lens.


"Burn Motherf------, Burn" (Showtime) explores the history of the Los Angeles Police Department and its relationship with LA's black residents.


"LA 92" (National Geographic) examines the roots of 1992's civil unrest in the Watts riots and the 1991 killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by shopkeeper Soon Ja Du, who was convicted of manslaughter but received no jail time. Racial tensions between blacks and Koreans are explored.


"L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later" (A&E) incorporates recent police shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana with interviews of the men who beat Denny.


"L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later" (History Channel) chronicles the history of protests against police in the black community, from the Watts riots to Black Lives Matter. It looks at the LAPDs aggressive policies, and the crisis of drugs and gang violence within the black community.  It also examines the tenuous relationship between Police Chief Daryl Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley, who both left office shortly after the riots.


"Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992" (ABC) interviews insiders and witnesses to the 1992 uprising, including victims, residents, and jurors who served on the King beating trial, as well as perpetrators of violence. The film also explores the LAPD’s controversial use of the battering ram during the crack epidemic and banning of the chokehold in the '80s.


"The Lost Tapes: LA Riots" (Smithsonian Channel) uses voices and images directly from 1992 instead of interviews and narration.  Footage taken by neighborhood residents and Los Angeles Police Department cameras, along with audio from local radio station KJLH are used throughout.



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