The Battle of Los Angeles: The 1992 Riots

The cost of damage to the city topped over $1 billion.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots shook the U.S. to its core as more than 50 people died and over 2,000 were injured.

Americans watched in horror as the city of Los Angeles burned for five days between April 29 and May 3, 1992. The unrest was the result of the acquittal of four officers charged in connection to the beating of Rodney King a year before.

In March 1991, King, reportedly intoxicated, led police on a chase through the streets of LA County before surrendering. When he got out of his car, police beat him brutally on the pavement, in a moment captured on camera, unbeknownst to the officers at the scene. 

The footage, later given to the press, shocked the country and led to King being released without charges.

Three of the four cops, however, were charged with assault with a deadly weapon; two were additionally charged with filing a false report. One of the officers, who did not participate in the beating, was charged with aiding and abetting. 

Tensions remained high while the city waited with baited breath to see what would happen.

And then, on April 29, 1992, an LA jury acquitted the four officers. The decision led to widespread riots that eventually became the most self-destructive civil disturbance in America last century. 

As the violence erupted in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, a news helicopter camera caught a truck driver being pulled from his vehicle and beaten after the intersection of Florence Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in South Central LA was blocked off by civilians.

Driver Reginald Denny miraculously survived the horrific incident.

“There was a sharp crashing sound," he told Inside Edition three months afterward. "Instantly, your heart skips a beat, or my heart did. Gosh, you know someone's really mad and that's the end of that. I don't recall anything after that."

The LAPD was accused of being slow to respond to the riots as chaos engulfed the city. Businesses burned to the ground, stores were looted, cars and homes were set on fire, and there was also melee among citizens. 

Charles Jones, a liquor store owner in the Compton section of the city, spoke to Inside Edition during the riots.

“I was happy to see my place standing,” he said, adding that he has the respect of his clients. “You burn me down, I got six other families that depend on me.” 

Another local businessman was not as fortunate; Inside Edition caught up with the owner of a Compton clothing store who did not give his name. His shop was completely looted. 

“What can we do?” the helpless owner asked. “We thought being a black business we would survive it, but all I can say is what can we do? It makes you mad naturally because you work so hard to build something up and your own people destroy it.” 

A beauty salon owner named Harriet who had her shop looted told Inside Edition she was “numb.”

Even as Inside Edition’s cameras rolled during the riots, brazen thieves looted stores and tried to break into ATMs. 

The amount of fires in the city overwhelmed firefighters in the early days of the riots; they received over 3,000 emergency calls. 

“It is ridiculous what is going on,” one firefighter told Inside Edition during the fiasco. “We can’t do our job as we are trained to do it.” 

The firefighters also became the target of violence as rocks, bottles and bullets came at them while they tried to put out the blazes. 

“We have always been the good guys,” the firefighter told Inside Edition. “This is the first time in my career where a lot of these people are very unhappy with us and that is unfortunate.” 

Eventually, California Gov. Pete Wilson deployed 9,800 National Guard troops after LA Mayor Tom Bradley pleaded for help. Bradley also enforced a curfew, but nothing seemed to stop the rioting. 

On May 1, President George H.W. Bush ordered the U.S. military intervene and help restore order. 

The same day, King made an emotional plea for calm, asking, “I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”

By May 3, 6,500 National Guard troops, over 1,100 Marines and 600 soldiers from the Army were patrolling the streets of LA creating a "police state" environment, but after five days of violence, chaos and destruction, everything began to ebb. 

The cost of damage to the city topped over $1 billion. 

Three months after the riots ended, a federal grand jury returned indictments against the four police officers involved in the King beating. In February 1993, they went to trial and two months later, two of the four cops are convicted for violating King’s civil rights and were sentenced to 30 months in prison. The two others were found not guilty. 

In April 1994, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles awarded King $3.8 million in damages in a civil lawsuit he filed against the city. He initially demanded $56 million – $1 million for each blow he received at the hands of the LAPD. Two months later, he was awarded no money in a civil suit filed against the four officers. He had asked for $15 million. 

In June 2012, over 20 years after the riots, King was found dead in his swimming pool at his home in Rialto, California. He was 47.