On this dayApr 29, 1992

All-White Jury Acquits Officers Who Beat Rodney King Despite Video Evidence

On April 29, 1992, an all-white jury in California chose to acquit three of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King during a violent arrest in March of 1991, and could not agree on a verdict for the fourth officer, despite video evidence establishing their culpability. 

On March 3, 1991, Mr. King was driving in downtown Los Angeles when the LAPD pulled him over and began beating him after he allegedly resisted arrest. Four LAPD officers kicked Mr. King, who was on the ground, and beat him with batons for nearly 15 minutes while more than a dozen law enforcement officers stood by. Mr. King sustained life-threatening injuries, including skull fractures and permanent brain damage. 

A man standing on his balcony witnessed the violent arrest and captured it on tape. Video of the unrelenting assault was played at trial and broadcasted into homes across the nation and around the world.

Just months before the officers were acquitted, a federal court had concluded that Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies continued to use racially motivated “terrorist-type tactics” to violate the civil rights of Black people. Still, none of the officers involved in Mr. King’s assault faced punishment at trial.

The legal system’s refusal to hold these officers accountable was not unique—the Los Angeles Black community had already endured decades of racial discrimination, violence, and police brutality—but many community members found the outcome inexplicable given that the officers’ conduct had been caught on camera. The same month that Rodney King was beaten, a Korean store owner in South Central Los Angeles shot and killed a 15-year-old Black girl named Latasha Harlins after accusing her of trying to steal a bottle of orange juice. Latasha was clutching money when she was killed, but the store owner received only probation and a $500 fine. 

The verdict drew shock and anguish across the county, and members of the Black community in L.A. took to the streets in protests that lasted until May 4, 1992. 

The protests echoed the unrest that broke out in L.A.’s Watts neighborhood in the summer of 1965, after police beat and arrested two young Black men following a traffic stop. A commission convened to investigate the so-called "Watts Riots" concluded that the unrest stemmed from Black residents’ dissatisfaction with policing, high rates of unemployment, and inadequate schools. Despite these conclusions, little changed in the decades that followed.

 

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