1992: The Los Angeles riot

LOS ANGELES, April 29, 1992 — Governor Pete Wilson mobilized the National Guard tonight as angry rioters rampaged through the streets of the city, smashing and looting stores, beating passing motorists and setting scores of fires.

The violence was ignited by the acquittals of four Los Angeles Police officers who were shown on videotape beating and kicking a black motorist, Rodney G. King, in what has become a symbol here of the antagonisms between the city's minorities and its peacekeepers.

Throughout the night the rioting intensified in the inner city and flared downtown as looters roamed near City Hall and in a shopping area in the mostly white Westwood neighborhood, in the worst violence since the 1965 Watts riots.

Buildings were set afire and looted, a freeway was closed, cars were stopped and their drivers beaten, government buildings were vandalized, and the air was filled with the smell of smoke and the sound of police sirens.


Mobs of young men rampaged through the streets overturning and burning vehicles, smashing windows, spraying graffiti and taunting the police. Police officers, firefighters and news helicopters reported being shot at.

Helicopter news cameramen showed gripping scenes of of vicious beatings of motorists by groups of thugs, startling evocations of the videotaped footage of the beating of Mr. King

As night fell, the sky was filled with police sirens and the scattered glow of fires. Television was a jumble of scenes of looting and violence

The Governor announced the mobilization six hours after the verdict and after the failure of a passionate plea for calm by the city's Mayor, Tom Bradley, who is black. Mr. Bradley later said a curfew would be imposed Friday night.

A spokesman for the Governor could offer no immediate details about the numbers or deployment of the guardsmen. A spokesman for the Mayor, Bill Chandler, said he hoped that 1,000 to 2,000 guardsmen would work to restore order here.

As the officials spoke, and the police stood back, angry crowds surrounded the police headquarters and then City Hall, where they set a small fire in the foyer.

Late in the evening, two cars were burning in front of City Hall, one a police car. Rounds of ammunition could be heard exploding in its trunk.

Across the street, all street-level windows at The Los Angeles Times's building had been smashed.

As the nearby Phil's Coffee Shop was burning, fire trucks raced past to other calls, without stopping.

A Fire Department spokesman said one firefighter had been shot and taken to a hospital.

The violence and the mobilization of the National Guard recalled the Watts riots of 1965, when the anger of inner-city blacks erupted in more than a week of violence that cost 34 lives.

At that time, the government was criticized for being slow to deploy the National Guard.

Tonight's violence was spread over a larger area than in 1965, and its source was anger at the peacekeepers themselves.

It began moments after the reading of the verdicts, in which a suburban jury with no black members acquitted Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno of assault charges.

They remained deadlocked on one charge of excessive force against Officer Powell, and the prosecutor said he might ask for a retrial on that charge.

As the officers walked from the courthouse in suburban Simi Valley, members of an angry crowd threw rocks at Officer Powell and jostled Sergeant Koon and Officer Wind.

Soon afterward, young men hurled stones at cars and dragged drivers from their vehicles in the south-central area of Los Angeles, an area that is largely populated by members of minorities and that includes the Watts section.

"We've had about 120 fire incidents that we've responded to since 7 o'clock," said Bob Collins, a Fire Department spokesman. "In a normal three hours we might have 10."

Copyright The New York Times