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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 1992

It's another exciting trip back through time as we take a look back on what happened throughout history on the second-last day of April.  And, I'll say this.  While I am sort of sad to see April fade away for another year, I'm really excited about the prospects that May has to offer for this blog.  It is the third anniversary, and I have got some really big announcements coming up over the next few weeks, so I hope you're excited to see some changes happening as we approach the three-year-mark.

Of course, before we get to May, we have to finish off April.  Have a look at some of the major happenings that took place on April 29...

1429 - Joan of Arc arrives to relieve the "Siege of Orleans"

1770 - Explorer James Cook arrives at and names the area known as Botany Bay, Australia

1781 - The Battle of Fort Royal takes place off the coast of Martinique during the American Revolutionary War

1861 - During the Civil War, Maryland's House of Delegates votes not to secede from the Union

1882 - The "Elektromote" is tested in Berlin, the precursor for the modern-day trolley

1917 - Actress Celeste Holm (d. 2012) is born in New York City

1931 - Scottish-British singer/guitarist Lonnie Donegan (d. 2002) is born in Glasgow, Scotland

1945 - The day before they commit suicide, Adolf Hitler marries his longtime partner Eva Braun in a German bunker at the tail end of World War II

1951 - Racing legend Dale Earnhardt (d. 2001) is born in Kannapolis, North Carolina

1953 - The very first experimental 3D television broadcast takes place in the United States, showing an episode of "Space Patrol" on Los Angeles television station KECA-TV

1967 - Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title following his refusal to enroll in the United States Army due to religious reasons

1968 - The controversial musical "Hair" opens on Broadway

1974 - During the Watergate Scandal, President Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of White House tape recordings related to the scandal

1980 - Director/producer Alfred Hitchcock passes away at the age of 80

1986 - A devastating fire at the Los Angeles Public Library destroys or damages 400,000 books

1999 - The Avala TV Tower outside of Belgrade is destroyed during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia

2004 - The final Oldsmobile rolls off the production line after 107 years in business

2005 - William J. Bell, the creator of soap operas "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" dies at the age of 78

2011 - The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton takes place

And, here are the celebrity birthdays for April 29; April Ashley, Richard Kline, Tommy James, Joey Levine, Anita Dobson, Jerry Seinfeld, Kate Mulgrew, Daniel Day-Lewis, Mark Kendall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eve Plumb, Curtis Joseph, Master P, Carnie Wilson, Jack Mackenroth, Andre Agassi, Uma Thurman, David Sullivan, Sam Jones III, Jo O'Meara, Renee Alway, and Jonathan Toews.

So, what date will we be going back in time to this time around?  Well, for most of us, it may seem like another typical day.  But for those of you who lived in the greater Los Angeles area, it was the beginning of 72 hours of pure hell.

Perhaps the actual date will jog your memory.  April 29, 1992.

That date was a very scary day for people in Los Angeles.  A state of utter and total confusion was in place over the following three days following the conclusion of a very controversial trial, and by the end of it all, several areas of the city were left in ruins, fifty-three people were killed, a further two thousand were injured, and at least eleven thousand people were charged with a criminal offence that day.

But what trial could have caused people to create so much chaos and destruction to their own city?  How could a major metropolis lose control so quickly?

Well, to answer that question, I think we have to start at the beginning.

It all began a little over a year earlier in March 1991.  On March 3 of that year, then 25-year-old Rodney King was driving west on I-210 with two passengers through the Lake View Terrace neighbourhood of Los Angeles when the California Highway Patrol tried to initiate a traffic stop.  At some point, the scene escalated into a high-speed police chase that spanned through Los Angeles freeways and residential neighbourhoods before coming to a stop.  King and the other two occupants were ordered under arrest on the spot - likely due to charges of reckless driving.  And if that's where it all ended, it would have been seen as nothing harmless.

But then here's where things get extremely dicey.

At some point after the car King was driving was pulled to a stop, the two passengers were taken out of the car and placed in nearby patrol cars as five LAPD officers (all of Caucasian origin) arrived on the scene to subdue King. 

The actual policy at that time for the LAPD (I'm not sure if it's been changed since 1991, so that's why I state 'at that time') was that if a suspected criminal was resisting arrest (as King was reportedly doing at that time), the procedure was to tackle a suspect and cuff them, only using force if the officer themselves felt that they were in physical danger.

For whatever reason, the five officers opted to go by a different procedure against the African-American Rodney King.  They tasered him, kicked him in the head, used their batons to beat King repeatedly for sixty seconds and then tackled and cuffed him.  The officers stated that they felt it was necessary since they claimed that King was under the influence of PCP at the time of his arrest and he was very aggressive and violent towards them.

At some point after the arrest was made, the video tape that detailed the whole incident was broadcast all over the media.  And, you can just imagine how frightened I was as a nine-year-old at the time, watching these people kicking and beating this man.  I was too young to understand the situation, and I remember having a LOT of questions over it and wondering what Rodney King did to deserve such horrific treatment.  Again, this was the nine-year-old me talking here, but even at nearly 33, I still question whether the decisions that were made that night (by both King and the police officers) were the right ones.  It was certainly a messy situation for sure.

To make the situation even more complicated, King was subjected to a drug test which showed that he had tested NEGATIVE for PCP.  And it later came out that the reason why King ignored the traffic stop was because he had been released on parole due to a prior robbery conviction, and he was concerned that had he been arrested for a DUI, it would violate his parole terms and he would go back to prison. 

The end result (after the media reported on the case for what seemed like forever) was that four of the officers - including one sergeant - were charged with assault and use of excessive force.  There was a growing group of activists who claimed that the attack on Rodney King was racially motivated, and tensions began to fester as the trial grew closer and closer to beginning. 

The trial began in early 1992, and just to give a little bit of background in the trial, here's the statistics.

Of the twelve jurors serving on the case, nine were white, one black, one Asian, and one Latino.  The prosecutor of the case was black.  And because of the media coverage that the case generated, the trial was moved outside of Los Angeles to Simi Valley. 

It wasn't until the seventh day of jury deliberations that the jury ushered in their verdict.  The date?  April 29, 1992.  And the verdict was heavily influenced by a small snippit of film that was shown in the courtroom (but not on media broadcasts) which showed King lunging towards one of the officers before being subjected to the beating that would leave him severely injured.  That was enough for the jury to acquit all four officers of assault.  Not only that, but three of the four officers were also acquitted of the charge of using excessive force while the jury couldn't agree on a verdict for the fourth. 

That decision set off the spark that ignited the dynamite inside of the city of Los Angeles.

Half an hour after the announcement of the acquittals was made at 3:15pm the afternoon of April 29, a group of 300 people appeared outside of the Los Angeles County Courthouse immediately protesting the verdict, and just a couple of hours later, the crowd had grown to such a high number that the LAPD dispatched two dozen officers to confront a growing protest in South Central Los Angeles near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Streets.  The crowd, however, outnumbered the officers, and the police were forced to flee.  Soon after, reports of looting, carjackings, and beatings were coming out of the area, hence setting the stage for the infamous Los Angeles Riots of 1992.

For those of you born after 1992, here's some video footage of the riots as they happened back in April and May 1992.  Some of the videos may be disturbing to watch, so definitely initiate parental guidance if needed.

The stories coming out of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 were barbaric.  A white truck driver, Reginald Denny, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he was physically dragged out of his truck at the intersection of Normandie and Florence and badly beaten by a mob of local black residents.  The whole incident was caught on tape by a television news helicopter.  Another beating occurred that same day by the same people who nearly killed Denny when Guatemalan-born Fidel Lopez was attacked and robbed and left for dead. 

Over the next two days, racial wars were taken to the streets, and most of the violence in the city was confined to South Central Los Angeles - the area of town with the most visible minorities at the time.  Businesses owned by Asian and Latino born Americans were looted and burned to the ground.  People began beating each other up on the streets.  A strict curfew was placed over the entire city for several days.  Even President George Bush went on the air to plead with people to stop the violence and the anarchy.  Schools and businesses were closed until the following Monday.  It wouldn't be until the ninth of May before federal troops left the Los Angeles area, and some soldiers were stationed in the city until the end of May - a full month after the riots took place!

The riots had made such an impact on the world that they were referred to in the world of pop culture.  "Beverly Hills 90210" featured a storyline in which the kids of West Beverly considered canceling a planned integrated dance with an inner-city Los Angeles school around the time of the L.A. riots.  "L.A. Law" actually featured a storyline that was set during the riots in which one of the main characters became a victim of the violence and his struggles to overcome the injuries, both physical and mental.  And even Bill Cosby took to the airwaves to persuade people to stop the violence to watch the series finale of "The Cosby Show", which aired smack dab in the middle of the Los Angeles riots.

So, what was the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992?  Well, there was a lot of pressure from the public for a retrial of the officers who were involved in the King beating, and new federal charges of civil rights were brought against the officers.  In April 1993 - almost one year to the day that the riots began, two of the officers were found guilty.  Those two officers - Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell - were sentenced to thirty months behind bars.  All four officers were either terminated from the LAPD or left the force of their own accord.  Another officer who was at the scene, Susan Clemmer, later took her own life in 2009.

Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages from the attack, and he used the money to found his own record label, "Straight Alta-Pazz Records".  But the record company soon folded, and King ended up getting arrested a grand total of eleven times for charges ranging from hit-and-run to domestic violence.  In his later years, King attempted to rebuild his life by leaving Los Angeles and settling in Rialto, California, even seeking treatment in rehab (most famously appearing as a patient on Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab), but sadly, King was found dead in a swimming pool on June 17, 2012 at the age of 47.

As for victim Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was brutally attacked the day the Los Angeles riots started?  He sustained a massive seizure as a result of the injuries he sustained, and he had to endure years of rehabilitative treatment to learn how to walk again.  His speech remains permanently damaged.  The men who were responsible for his attack were all charged - the worst of the bunch, Damian "Football" Williams - served four years of a ten year sentence issued to him in 1993.  He is currently serving a 46-year-sentence in a state prison for an unrelated charge.

Yes, April 29, 1992 was an extremely dark day in the city of Los Angeles.  The buildings destroyed were rebuilt, the physical injuries healed as best they could, and people soon went back to living their lives as best they could. 

The question is...did anybody learn anything from it all?

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