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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Flashback: Rodney King and the LA riots
Rodney King being beaten by LAPD, 3 March 1991
The videotaped beating shocked the world
The videotape of the violent arrest of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson by Los Angeles police has reawakened uncomfortable memories of another assault on a black motorist.

In 1991, footage of Rodney King being beaten by four police officers while others looked on caused outrage around the world, and was a major factor in triggering serious rioting in the city a year later.

Rodney King
Rodney King was badly injured in the beating

Now there are fears that the latest incident could again ignite Los Angeles' simmering racial tensions.

King's white Hyundai car was stopped by traffic officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) after a high-speed chase on 3 March 1991.

King, whose friends "Pooh" Allen and Freddie Helms were also in the vehicle, had been drinking and was behaving erratically.


Ordering him out of the car, four officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Stacey Koon, beat Mr King repeatedly with their batons.

Stacey Koon
Sergeant Stacey Koon later received a 30 month jail term

The LAPD claimed the officers had acted in self-defence to restrain King, who they said was aggressive and resisting arrest.

Other officers present did not intervene. Rodney King suffered a fractured skull and internal injuries in the attack.

The incident was caught on camera by George Holliday, a manager of a plumbing company, whose apartment was close by.

Within a day, the tape was running on news networks around the world, focusing international attention on the apparent brutality of the LAPD.

Four days later, Los Angeles County District Attorney dismissed all charges against King. On 15 March, the four police officers were charged with assault.

However, a grand jury later refused to indict 17 other officers who had witnessed the beating.


In July 1991, an independent commission ordered to investigate the LAPD delivered a damning verdict.

Its report documented what it described as the systematic use of excessive force and institutionalised racism. The commission recommended the resignation of police chief Daryl Gates.

LA on fire, April 1992
Widespread broke out erupted after the trial

In Autumn 1991, the lenient sentence handed to a Korean-American convenience store assistant convicted of shooting dead a young black woman further heightened racial tensions.

The spark came in April 1992, when all four officers in the Rodney King case were cleared of assault. Within hours, violence erupted across the city's black neighbourhoods.

Fifty-five people were killed in several days of rioting, looting and retaliatory attacks against whites and Asians. About 2,000 people were injured, and another 12,000 arrested.

More than $1bn worth of property was damaged and the National Guard was deployed to help police restore order.

A year later, the four acquitted police officers faced a second trial on federal charges of violating Rodney King's civil rights.

Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were found guilty and received 30 month jail terms; Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were cleared.

Rodney King won a $3.8m damages from the City of Los Angeles. He used some of the money to found a rap record business, Alta-Pazz Recording Company.

See also:

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