The riots gained international attention and led to a debate about racial and economic disparities, and the use of police violence against African Americans, that continues today with the Black Lives Matter protests.
In March 1991, King – on parole for robbery – had led police on a high-speed chase through Los Angeles; later, he was charged with driving under the influence.
When they finally stopped him, the police ordered King out of his car. LAPD officers then kicked him repeatedly and beat him with batons for a reported 15 minutes.
Caught on camera by a bystander, graphic video of the attack against was broadcast into homes across the nation and worldwide, showing more than a dozen cops standing by, watching and commenting on the beating.
King was left with skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage.
Four officers were charged with excessive use of force. A year later, on 29 April 1992, a jury from the distant suburbs of Ventura County – nine white, one Latino, one biracial, one Asian – found the four officers not guilty.
The acquittals were announced around 3 p.m. Less than three hours later, the unrest began.
Residents set fires, looted and destroyed liquor stores, grocery stores, retail shops and fast-food restaurants. Light-skinned motorists were targeted, pulled from their cars and beaten.
South Central Los Angeles – now known just as South Los Angeles – was particularly violent. More than half of the population was Black and tension had already been mounting for years: the unemployment rate was 50%, drugs had become endemic, and gang activity and violent crime were all high. Meanwhile, the LAPD was almost seen as an occupying force.
Another contributing factor was the killing of a 15-year-old African-American girl named Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner. She was accused of trying to steal orange juice but had been clutching money to pay for the juice when she was killed. The store owner received probation and a $500 fine.
During the five days of unrest, there were more than 50 riot-related deaths. More than 2,000 people were injured, and nearly 6,000 alleged looters and arsonists were arrested.
More than 1,000 buildings were also damaged or destroyed, and approximately 2,000 Korean-run businesses were damaged or destroyed. In all, approximately $1 billion worth of property was destroyed.