How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

On the legacy of Rodney King and the 1992 riots

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Rodney King during a press conference in May, 1992

Rodney King was an unlikely historical figure, thrust into the books at the age of 25 when his videotaped beating at the hands of Los Angeles police - and the officers' acquittal the following year - triggered the deadly 1992 L.A. riots. King would never be the same, nor would the city.

King died yesterday at 47, his body found by his fiancée in his backyard pool in the L.A. suburb of Rialto, Calif. His life had not been an easy one. Above and beyond his well-documented struggles with alcohol and drugs, he'd been saddled with living as a poster boy for police brutality. But as King is being remembered, his legacy includes the police reforms that followed the riots, along with memories of a defining period in the city's history that continue to resonate.

The riots, which some still refer to as the "Rodney King riots," began April 29, 1992 after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of savagely beating King, who had been pulled over after a chase. King was left with multiple skull fractures and a broken eye socket; a passerby had caught the beating on video, which was aired by news agencies.

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Tweet of the moment: 'Preliminary estimate: Nearly 1,000 fires reported, says @LAFD #crisis'

Photo by Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images

A fire department crew sprays water on a burning mini-mall in South Los Angeles, April 30, 1992

At approximately this hour 20 years ago today in Los Angeles, this was the news.

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which more than 50 people were killed, thousands were injured, and property damage mounted on a billion dollars. The riots began the afternoon of April 29, after a jury acquitted four police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a black motorist who had been pulled over after a chase.

Media outlets in L.A. and around the country have spent the past several days reporting on Angelenos' recollections of the riots and their lasting legacy, but NBC Southern California is doing something different. Yesterday afternoon, its @RealTimeLARiots account tweeted:

The account is NBC's answer to "What if Twitter existed in 1992?" as posted on its local website last week. @RealTimeLARiots will continue tweeting updates of what occurred on the same date and time 20 years ago as if occurring live, down to the very minute. Last night, the account tweeted a startling aerial photograph of the city as arson fires burned and smoke filled the sky the evening of April 29, 1992. The riots continued for several days after that.

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Perspectives on the L.A. riots, 20 years later

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A building damaged by fire during the 1992 Los Angeles riots

During the last month, KPCC brought together four panels of Angelenos to share their recollections of the deadly riots that began April 29, 1992 in an informal series of private conversations, led by journalists and other members of the staff.

The panelists were people from throughout the city, of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many had little in common save for having been old enough 20 years ago to remember the rioting began that day, after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of savagely beating black motorist Rodney King. In the violent, confusing, smoke-filled days that followed, more than 50 people died and property damage mounted close to $1 billion as arson fires and looting spread. To this day, the riots remain a defining moment in L.A. history.

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'It wasn't just about Rodney King': Perspectives on the riots, 20 years later

AFP/Getty Images

An apartment building damaged by fire during the 1992 Los Angeles riots

During the last month, KPCC brought together four panels of Angelenos to share their recollections of the deadly riots that began April 29, 1992 in an informal series of private conversations led by journalists and other members of the staff.

The panelists were people from throughout the city, of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many had little in common save for having been old enough 20 years ago to remember the rioting began that day, after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of savagely beating black motorist Rodney King. In the violent, confusing, smoke-filled days that followed, more than 50 people died and property damage mounted close to $1 billion as arson fires and looting spread. To this day, the riots remain a defining moment in L.A. history.

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'Do we count? Do we matter?' Perspectives on the riots, 20 years later

Photo by Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images

A fire department crew sprays water on a burning mini-mall in South Los Angeles, April 30, 1992

During the last month, KPCC brought together four panels of Angelenos to share their recollections of the deadly riots that began April 29, 1992 in an informal series of private conversations, led by journalists and other members of the staff.

The panelists were people from throughout the city, of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many had little in common save for having been old enough 20 years ago to remember the rioting began that day, after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of savagely beating black motorist Rodney King. In the violent, confusing, smoke-filled days that followed, more than 50* people died and property damage mounted close to $1 billion as arson fires and looting spread. To this day, the riots remain a defining moment in L.A. history.

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