Before everyone had a video recorder in the palm of their hands, before police dashcams, before internet was in almost every home and before videos became ‘viral’; the entire world became a witness to police brutality for the first time. Early in the morning of March 3, 1991, Rodney King and his friends were pulled over by members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) after a short police chase.
At the time, there more going on in Los Angeles; two weeks after the King assault on March 16, 1991, Latasha Harlins, was killed by a Korean store owner that believed Harlins was attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice. The store surveillance video shows the store owner trying to take Harlins’ backpack, Harlins’ walking away and the store owner shooting her in the back. The witnesses to the incident and police report state she had $2.00 in her hand. In November 1991, the jury convicted the store owner of voluntary manslaughter and suggested a 16-year jail term. The judge in the case reduced the sentence to was fined $500 and sentenced to five years of probation and 400 hours of community service, no jail time. This lenient sentence lit the fuse that lead to the events of April 1992.
LA 92 focuses on the LA Riots as well as addresses some of the systemic issues surrounding the justice system in LA County that lead them. The absence of justice in the Harlins’ case and others like it were well known in Los Angeles County, however the rest of the world was not privy to it until the assault of Rodney King. The belief that there would a conviction in the King case pacified the city, they had a video. After 7 days of deliberation the jury in Simi Valley, CA acquitted the officers involved on all charges. The fuse met the powder keg.
The Oscar Winning directors, Dan Lindsey and TJ Martin sifted through 1500 hours of video and radio recordings sourced from citizens, news media and the LAPD to create a powerful documentary. Unlike most documentaries, there is no narrator to explain what you are watching or attempting shape your opinion. The film presents the narrative as it happened. The directors attempted to include the voices of all communities in this piece, including the police officers, the African American and Korean American viewpoints. The only group not represented are the Latin American community, but that was due to the material not being available.
For some viewers, this will be a history lesson, for others it’s revisiting history. I was 23 when I watched the riots on CNN and I thought I knew what was going on. What I realized after watching LA 92 I really didn’t have a clue. The media at the time was focused on South Central LA; the documentary shows that the riot overtook the entire city. The rioters were not just African Americans, people of all races were participating. One scene that stands out is a white man lighting trees on fire in downtown LA, during the unrest. The looting crossed racial and economic lines, people are seen all over the city taking whatever they could their hands on. There were peaceful protest, churches praying and asking for calm and marches but they were overshadowed by the violence and fires.
This documentary is jarring, thought provoking and sadly still necessary. Examine the choice to hold the second screening in Baltimore, the week we acknowledge the unrest here 2 years ago. The only differences between LA in 1992 and Baltimore in 2015, we never heard Freddie Gray’s side of the story.
I expect mainstream media to do think pieces or where are they now style retrospectives. LA 92 gives you the story raw and invites you to make your own opinions of the events of April 29 to May 1, 1992. You are asked to judge the local and national media, the politicians to the citizens of LA everyone’s actions are meant to be questioned. Did they go too far or not far enough? Please decide and keep the conversation going.
5 stars out of 5.
LA 92 is being screened as part of the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC and premiers nationally on Sunday April 30, 2017 at 9pm on NatGeo Channel.