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1992: 'I watched as police cars were overturned'

The acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King led to some of the worst rioting ever seen in the United States.

Fifty-five people lost their lives in the violence which saw revenge attacks against whites and Asians

Two of the four police officers at the centre of the case were later tried and found guilty of violating Mr King's civil rights. All four men left the police force.

Your stories

I lived and worked in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles.

I am a black female American. I witnessed several beatings, and numerous lootings of businesses.

I was at work, when the verdict came in. White people in my office were begging me to walk them to their cars.

I remember having the most sickening feeling in my stomach. I stayed locked in my home with my loaded 12 gauge shot gun at my side for two days. Even though I was black, it was still scary.
Linda Armstrong, USA

My wife and I were visiting friends in Oakland the night the riots broke out.

Two days later we had to drive to LAX airport for the flight home to Guatemala. On the highway overlooking LA we spotted about 50 National Guards trucks, with soldiers hanging around.

I stopped to ask when were they going into action to help quell the riots. One of the officers told me they were waiting for their ammo.

It was surreal to stand and watch the smoke billowing and the "rescuing troops" just loitering around.

I drove on and the cliche "fear and trepidation" became very real. The plane home was nearly empty, naturally, but minutes before closing the door the US Immigration and naturalization service quite literally herded in about 25 detainees, unkempt and smelly, and slammed the door shut.

They were Guatemalans that had been caught a few days before the riots and were waiting deportation trials. When the jail cells were needed, these fellows were told to sign a document which they presumed was a release but was a waiver of their rights to trial and sent home.

They behaved very well, most of them slept all the way home.

Their fellow legal passengers were unable to sleep much.
Edward Pearse, Guatemala

I had just finished working that week as a contractor and was killing time until my flight was to leave LAX. I was at a mall with a co-worker when we saw on a TV display that the riots had started. We decided to wait for the flight at LAX and headed for our rental car.

Then we headed for a gas station so we could turn it back in full.

While I was paying after topping the tank off my co-worker said, "Let's roll." She told me later that four men were approaching the car menacingly.

When we got to the airport the car being turned in in front of us had its rear windshield knocked out.

So we still wonder to this day how close we came to being one of those who were dragged from their car and beaten to death.
Gary, USA

I was living in LA the time of the Rodney King Trial and subsequent aftermath.

I recall very distinctly the electricity in the air.

It felt incredibly unsettling. I sat in my car, the windows rolled up, doors locked, frozen on the 405 (the main north/south artery through the City).

Traffic was completely stopped. Plumes of smoke rose like pillars holding up dark storm clouds.

The clouds were in fact not cumulus clouds but heavy smoke from the hours of burning buildings below.

There were people running down the freeway.

To this day I have no idea where they came from or where they went. Surreal. Sad.

I left LA two months later to return to my birthplace, a then safer, New York City - the irony. To this day I refer to LA as "Hell-A."
Ken, USA

I was there with my partner. We were just passing through and were on the way to a motel on Century Boulevard in a taxi.

As we drove through Watts, we noticed smoke, circling helicopters and a lot of very agitated-looking people on the streets. The driver thought maybe there'd been a plane crash and phoned one of his daughters at home.


" I don't think I've ever been so relieved to leave a place "

Miranda Hodgson, UK

When he found out that riots had started, he locked all the doors, and I still remember that 'thunk' and the chill that ran down my spine.

At the motel, we watched the riots on television, knowing that it was taking place only a couple of miles away. I think it was one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life as we couldn't help but keep imagining the violence and fire spreading to where we were staying.

I don't suppose anybody slept much that night. In the morning, everything was covered in ash and there was smoke in the air. The atmosphere was tangible - tense and silent groups of tired looking people waiting for the bus to the airport.

The airport itself was even more tense and also very quiet. I faxed my dad from there to let him know we were okay. When the plane took off, we looked down and saw only smoke over a huge area of LA.

I don't think I've ever been so relieved to leave a place.
Miranda Hodgson, UK

I was 11 years old and living with my parents in Southern California. My sister attended university in South Central LA at the time.


" My father and his brother drove into the city armed with cell phones, baseball bats and shotguns "

Maggie, UK

Though in my young mind I was dismayed at the outcome of the trial, that quickly turned to horror as through the afternoon and the evening I watched as police cars were overturned and set alight, mobs ran in the streets and, of course, the people who were dragged from their cars and beaten as they tried to flee the area.

My sister couldn't get home because campus security refused to come out and escort anyone anywhere - she spent the night at a friends' apartment in full view of some of the worst of it.

It was a very tense night and I don't remember sleeping at all. The next day my father and his brother drove into the city armed with cell phones, baseball bats and shotguns and took my sister and five of her friends out of the city for the rest of the weekend.

The whole time we watched on TV as shops were looted and burned. That part of Los Angeles looked charred and skeletal and it's never looked quite the same to me since.

When the "Not Guilty" verdict on the OJ trial was read four years later I was so relieved just to know that there wouldn't be any more riots.
Maggie, UK

I grew up in suburban Los Angeles, and it was here I found myself and two of my close friends the target of outraged rioters.

Following the verdict, which I had not heard, people of all races and ethnicities took to the streets, some in a show of defiance and anger, but more just seemed gleeful at the prospect of looting and terrorizing without punishment.

I had parked the car and when we went into the shopping mall everything seemed quite normal. When we came out to get back in the car, however, all hell had broken loose.

Being Caucasian, as we were, we immediately became a target. We did manage to get in the car and escape bodily injury by racing away, but not before a group of about five or six men had broken two of the car windows and hurled threats at us.

I've never been so terrified as that afternoon. I came home and watched the television as the city burned. We can never erase the scars that this day and the days that followed have left on our beloved City of Angels.

I hope it never happens anywhere again.
Kelly French, USA


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