Television screens across the world broadcast the videotaped footage of LAPD officers raining down 56 baton blows on an African American named Rodney King. Two weeks later, viewers watched another act of sickening violence when a Korean grocer shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old black girl named Latasha Harlins after an altercation over a bottle of juice. In October, the grocer was convicted of manslaughter and served no jail time. Finally, on April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley, one of the whitest exurbs of Los Angeles, acquitted three of the four officers involved in beating Rodney King. The response in South Los Angeles was loud and immediate: That night, thousands of residents, black and Latino, took to the streets, starting a four-day riot that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, injured 2,500 people, killed 58, and resulted in $1 billion in damage and 16,000 arrests.
Video still taken from George Holliday in Lake View Terrace of the Rodney King beating, Los Angeles, CA, 1991
Shortly after midnight on March 3, 1991, George Holliday awoke to the sounds of police sirens and helicopters outside his apartment. He grabbed his Sony Handycam and began filming.
His nine minutes of grainy footage ignited furious charges of racial injustice. He received $500 from KTLA-TV Channel 5 for rights to broadcast the tape. He owns a copy — the original remains in federal archives.
Twenty-five years ago on Thursday, a black motorist named Rodney King was pulled over by Los Angeles police officers in the suburb of Lake View Terrace.
It was 12:40 a.m. While a bystander named George Holliday recorded the stop on video, four of the officers ordered King and his two passengers out of their car and assaulted the 25-year-old with batons and stun guns, fracturing his skull, breaking one of his ankles and leaving bruises all over his body.
Holliday sold the tape to a local TV station for $500, and the rest is history. Despite nine minutes of overwhelming video evidence, all four officers — three of whom were white, one of whom was Latino — were acquitted of wrongdoing the following year. The verdict caused years of tension between black Angelenos and the Los Angeles Police Department to erupt, culminating in the 1992 L.A. Riots — one of the deadliest and most costly urban uprisings of the 20th century.