The Real Story
The verdict acquitting the four police officers charged in the brutal beating of Rodney King sparked the Civil Unrest on April 29, 1992. However, decades of simmering frustration and anger over economic inequality and police abuse set up the conditions for one of the United States most violent uprisings in recent memory.
The Deeper Causes:
1. Economic Inequality
Since the 1970s, manufacturing companies that once provided stable middle class jobs to families in South LA fled in droves – leaving empty factories and thousands jobless. By the 1980s, California was one of eight states that saw a widening income gap between the wealthy and the poor.
2. Drugs, Crime and Violence
Introduced in the midst of this tremendous poverty in the 1980s, crack-cocaine spread like an epidemic and wreaked havoc and destruction like no other drug before. Many residents, both men and women, used the drug to self-medicate and numb the despair of poverty and lack of opportunities.
A new profitable but dangerous underground economy surged as crack-cocaine filled the need for jobs. An explosion of gangs and violent crimes became a part of everyday life in neighborhoods that resembled urban battlefields.
3. Police Brutality
Under the infamous repressive leadership of Police Chief Daryl Gates, Los Angeles police routinely used excessive military-style force and violated civil liberties of ordinary residents as law enforcement incarcerated thousands of young African American and Latino men from South LA. Tensions and distrust mounted between the community and law enforcement with each case of police brutality and racial profiling.
Rather than investing resources into programs that rehabilitated and treated these issues at the root level, resources were spent on a military-stylized police force that led to the massive incarceration of African American and Latino men.
4. Failed Justice System
The death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African-American teenager who was shot by Korean storeowner Soon Ja Du, came just less than two weeks after the videotaped beating of Rodney King. In November the storeowner was given probation, a fine and community service for the killing of a child.
A few months later on April 29, 1992 the four police officers charged with the beating of African American driver Rodney King were acquitted and years of frustration and anger boiled over.
The Civil Unrest, better known by many as the Los Angeles Riots, lasted days and caused a total of 53 deaths, and $1 billion in damages.
Download “South L.A.’s Boiling Point,” a quick fact sheet of the Civil Unrest: