L.A. Riots Remembered, 15 Years Later

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Fifteen years ago today, a jury in Simi Valley, Calif., found four police officers largely not guilty in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King. The incident, coupled with the jury's decision, sparked some of the worst rioting in American history.

Many Angelenos assumed that the videotape of the King beating was such compelling evidence that the four officers definitely would be convicted. When they weren't, anger -- as well as years of pent-up racial tensions and resentments -- burst out in a civil disturbance that rocked and shocked Los Angeles.

For years, black Americans in Los Angeles had complained of police brutality at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. When the video of King's beating surfaced, the proof seemed to be captured on video.

"The video validated in people's minds a historical belief that what they saw was the rule versus the exception," said former L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks, now a city council member.

Four of the officers went on trial on charges of assault and use of excessive force against King. The jury -- 10 whites, one Latino and one Asian -- reached a not guilty verdict on April 29, 1992, on nearly every charge. And in what seemed like an instant, South Central Los Angeles exploded.

"What you saw was arson, looting, stores being torched. It was really Dodge City," said Judy Muller, a former ABC News correspondent now with the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

Hundreds of stores were looted or burned. And in one of the most horrifying images, a white truck driver, Reginald Denny, was pulled from his vehicle and beaten almost to death.

"It was really very dangerous to go into these areas," Muller said. "Even the police pulled out."

When it was over, 54 people were dead, 8,000 people were arrested and nearly $1 billion worth of damage had been done. King made his now-famous plea for reconciliation: "Can't we all just get along?"

Today, the wounds have largely healed. Since the riots, the city has had two black police chiefs.

At the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the flashpoint for these riots, damaged businesses have recovered and new ones have come in. In South Central Los Angeles, overall crime is down.

"I think it's changed a great deal over time, but I think it's one of those issues that you can't ever say, we've solved the problem," Parks said.

Despite the recovery, some believe more riots in Los Angeles are not out of the question.

"With each injustice, with each legal or economic slight, more and more tension builds, until something happens, a trigger, and you have the big one," said Darnell Hunt, a sociologist at the UCLA Center for African-American studies.

Today, King, now 42, lives off the nearly $4 million he won in a lawsuit against the city. He started his own construction company, but he's still been in and out of trouble with the law over the years.

Two of the four cops were later convicted of federal civil rights violations and spent more than two years in prison. The other two were acquitted.

One officer, Stacey Koon, wrote a book about his ordeal, but the rest of the four have mainly stayed out of the public eye.

Denny was brain-damaged by the beating he took, but has slowly recovered. He left Los Angeles behind to drive a cement truck, in Arizona.

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