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’cause I love Jesus

May 7, 2012

With surprisingly little media attention, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles just marked

its 20th anniversary.  I recall the events vividly, because I was in nearby Torrance when

that ton of turds hit the fan.


Let’s review: King, a black man, resisted arrest after a high-speed car chase.  Five white L.A.

policemen tasered and kicked him in the head.  They beat him with batons for more than a

minute, claiming that King was violent from having taken PCP (he hadn’t).  This might have

been written off as a routine traffic stop if George Holliday hadn’t videotaped it.


The first time I saw that tape, I thought “these cops are toast.”


The tape focused intense coverage on the event and trial, forcing a change of venue to Simi

Valley, a politically conservative town in neighbouring Ventura County.  A jury of 10 whites,

one Hispanic and one Asian absolved the four policemen charged in the incident.  All were

found not guilty of assault, and three of the four were acquitted of excessive force.


The rioting began less than four hours later.  Six days later, 53 people had died in the turmoil

and about 3600 fires had been set, destroying 1100 buildings.  It was so bad that both of the

city’s NBA teams had to relocate playoff games.  The Dodgers postponed a three-game series.


Even Bill Cosby, who encouraged the rioters to stop and watch the final episode of The Cosby

Show, couldn’t cool them down.  Or maybe they did take a break to watch it, then hit the

streets again.  The looters were taking a lot of TV’s.


I was working at a psych hospital ten miles south of the intersection of Florence & Normandie,

the flashpoint of the uproar.  That was where Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, and Fidel

Lopez, a Guatamalan immigrant, were pulled from their vehicles and severely beaten.  Both

attacks were televised, further inflaming matters.


The trial had been shown on TV gavel-to-gavel, and at times it approached the surreal.  One

day a defense attorney, trying to prove King’s aggressiveness towards the cops, showed a bit

of the Holliday tape where the prone “aggressor” was being pounded with batons.


“Look!”, the lawyer said, “Look!  He moved his foot!”


I was at work the day the verdicts were announced.  Both staff and patients were watching.

As this miscarriage of justice started sinking in, we all — black, white, Hispanic and Asian —

looked at each other uneasily because we knew the town was going to blow.


Right after it did, I had to drive to LAX to pick up a patient who was flying in from the East

Coast. I told him, “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but while you were in the air, L.A. has broken

out into riots.”


He rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, man.  And I was worried about earthquakes.”


I had skirted the most volatile area on the way to the airport.  We took the scenic, safer

route back.


The city raged for four days as law enforcement officers and the California National Guard

fought the rioters.  The Guard was hindered because it needed ammunition and riot gear.

The Korean American community organized a security force of its own and fought several

gun battles to defend their businesses.  The Marines sent 1500 from nearby Camp Pendleton

and the Army sent 2000+ from Fort Ord.  Things started to settle down.


Many employees of the hospital lived in hot spots around the city, so the administrators

opened an unused unit for them to stay.  No one took them up on it but me.  I was living

in my van in the hospital parking lot anyway, but it was a chance to upgrade for free.

Plus, I could later tell people that I once stayed at a place that charged $1000 a day,

and that didn’t include meds and therapy.


It was a grim time, one of the many reasons I fled L.A. between apocalypses.  TV coverage

was part of the problem.  It was sensationalistic and judgemental.  News anchors were call-

ing the rioters “thugs”.  But it did yield one gem that gave me a desperately-needed laugh.


A reporter was asking looters leaving a music store what kind of tunes they were taking.

One of them said, beaming, “Gospel, ’cause I love Jesus.”


  1. May 8, 2012 6:03 am

    Wow what a time for you and so many others. It was a time for me that I watched it all unfold on television and could hardly believe my eyes. My ex-husband was a truck driver at the time and in LA and I was so afraid for him. He was fine, but so many other people were not.
    It was nice that you had a place to stay during this. I would have been taking them up on their offer as well.

  2. May 8, 2012 6:04 am

    Oh wow look, wordpress let me comment. I wondered if it would!!

    • May 8, 2012 9:40 am

      Hey, Beth! Welcome back. How are you feeling?

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