April 30th, 1992

Los Angeles Police Officers Acquitted in Rodney King Beating, Sparking Riots

In March 1991, Los Angeles, California, police officers stopped Rodney King for driving under the influence and evading arrest and severely beat him with batons, causing broken bones and other significant injuries. A bystander recorded the violent assault on video and public outcry in response to the graphic video led many to demand that the officers face criminal charges. Mr. King, a black man, soon became a polarizing symbol of racialized police brutality.

LAPD Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno were charged with excessive force and, after a change of venue, were tried in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, more than a year after the beating, a jury of ten whites, one Latino, and one Asian acquitted Sergeant Koon, Officer Wind, and Officer Briseno, but deadlocked on a charge against Officer Powell. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley expressed disbelief at the verdict and forcefully declared the officers "did not deserve to wear the uniform of the LAPD." Thirty minutes after the acquittals, a crowd of 300 began protesting at the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Additional protests at the police department and other locations escalated to looting, vandalism, and violent assaults, including mob beatings of passing motorists.

On April 30, 1992, widespread fires and heavy looting continued throughout Los Angeles. In the absence of police, armed Korean American storekeepers engaged in shootouts with looters. Police and the state national guard organized a response by the afternoon, and Mayor Bradley imposed a city-wide dusk-to-dawn curfew. Several more days of riots lay ahead.