In 1992, a Black Los Angeles resident named Rodney King was brutally beaten by white police officers during an arrest. The attack by the officers was recorded and the video was viewed far and wide. The officers were tried but found innocent, highlighting the insidious systemic racism within the Los Angeles police force even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. This ignited a fury amongst Black Angelenos that lead to 6 days of violent rioting and looting.
This documentary compresses 2000 hours of archive footage into two hours of hard hitting viewing.
There are three main areas of focus. First is the backdrop of long existing racial tension in the USA. This is illustrated mostly through a look at the 1965 Watts riots, which were similarly caused by brutal and unfair policing of Black residents, backdropped by racial segregation and systemic racism impacting housing, education and employment. This background shows just how little had changed in the time between 1965 and 1992 and how rage caused by unfair treatment had spilled over before.
Second is the events leading directly to the 1992 riots. The Rodney King incident is taken into account but so is racial profiling and the murder of Latasha Harlins that exacerbated tensions between Korean store owners and their Black customers. There is also a reminder that the same issues faced in 1965 were (and still are) prevalent in Los Angeles for Black people.
Third is the absolute failure by the police and judicial systems to behave in a fair manner. The verdicts in both King’s and Harlins’ cases are laughable and demonstrate total lack of regard for Black lives.
As everything spills over into violence and looting it is easy to see that things have gotten out of hand. However the failures by the authorities have to be taken into account and condemned. There are so many points at which things could have been calmed down but no one in charge is willing to admit that they were wrong and unfair. They refuse to revisit their rulings, they won’t back down and more and more force is deployed leading to the biggest military occupation of a city since the 1968 Washington riots. Ultimately the riots end following horrifying violence and destruction but what rings out is how preventable it all was.
The footage is powerful, visceral and compelling. It’s a stark reminder that even another 28 years later, very little has changed in light of the happenings following the murder of George Floyd. If you are looking to expand your education on police brutality and systemic racism this is an essential watch. Highly recommended.