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Justice

What Was Lost in the Fires of the L.A. Riots

In a new documentary, previously unseen footage collected by the Los Angeles Police Department reveals how the narrative of the riots has changed in 25 years.
South Central burns on April 30, 1992, the second night of rioting.
South Central burns on April 30, 1992, the second night of rioting.Mark Elias/AP

The public life of Rodney King begins on March 3, 1991, when the African-American man was clubbed and kicked relentlessly by a gang of LAPD officers during a traffic stop. It ends on June 17, 2012, when he was found dead in his swimming pool at age 47. The autopsy showed that an “alcohol and drug-induced delirium” led to his drowning. Before that point, he had been revolving in and out of rehab for substance abuse, a problem he attributed to trauma from the beating he took from cops. His death was ruled both accidental and self-inflicted, which is a common ending for the concussed.

Riots are also a common feature of communities that have been beaten down and traumatized by racism and poverty. Such was the case for South Central Los Angeles, which erupted in flames and violence on April 29, 1992, hours after a jury refused to convict the four LAPD officers who attacked King. The police got off the hook even though the beating had been captured on home video: That clip hit the local news, then CNN, and achieved pre-internet virality.