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1992: LA in flames after 'not guilty' verdict

AUDIO : Report from riot-torn Los Angeles

AUDIO : Rodney King appeals for calm

Fierce rioting has broken out in Los Angeles following the decision by a jury to acquit four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King.

The decision, made by an all-white jury, caused a political outcry, and provoked fury in the predominantly black neighbourhoods of south-central Los Angeles.

An angry crowd, chanting "Guilty! Guilty!", tried to storm police headquarters in the business district, before setting fire to shops and vehicles.

Motorists were dragged from their cars and beaten, cars were overturned and set alight, and at least five people were shot dead.

The violence is the worst in the city since the Watts riots of 1965, in which 34 people died. The Governor of California, Pete Wilson, has declared a state of emergency, and called in reinforcements from the California Highway Patrol.

'Murder and destruction'

In a brief televised statement, President Bush said the "murder and destruction" on the streets of the city must be stopped. He also spoke of his concern at excessive use of force by the police.

The case centred on a video, taped by an amateur cameraman in March last year, which caught the scene as the four police officers beat, kicked and clubbed unemployed labourer Rodney King for 81 seconds while other officers looked on.

The tape was on television networks across the world a day later, and became a focus for accusations of racist brutality against the LAPD.

Throughout the two-month televised trial, the four accused police officers - Laurence Powell, Stacey Koon, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno - argued that they acted in self-defence to restrain Mr King, who they said was aggressive and resisted arrest.

Following the verdict, Mr King's lawyer said his client was "speechless - in a state of shock and outrage". He plans to go ahead with his $56 million private suit against the city and police force.

State Senator Ed Davis, himself a former city police chief, said he was "shocked and flabbergasted" by the verdict. "Having seen the video, like millions of other people," he said, "I cannot accept this as police conduct for California."

In Context
The riots in Los Angeles lasted several days. The violence killed 55 people, and included revenge attacks against whites and Asians. About 2,000 were injured, with a further 12,000 arrested.

Property damaged cost an estimated $1bn to repair, and the National Guard was deployed to restore order.

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

Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were found guilty: each served two years in jail. Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were cleared. All four left the police force, and have since found it difficult to get work elsewhere.

Rodney King won $3.8m damages from the City of Los Angeles. Much of it went to pay his lawyers, but he used the rest to found a rap record business, the Straight Alta-Pazz Recording Company.


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