The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

Remembering the moment the LA Riots began, at Florence and Normandie

by The Madeleine Brand Show

The intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues became a flash point in the early hours of the riots in 1992. Grant Slater/KPCC

Rioting first broke out at the intersection of Florence and Normandie twenty years ago outside Tom's Liquor in South Central Los Angeles, after news that the officers accused of beating Rodney King were acquitted hit the airwaves.

Correspondent Judy Muller takes us back to that flash point on April 29 and the events that sparked six days of civil unrest, which left 54 people dead, injured thousands and contributed to more than $1 billion in damage.

The Witnesses:

Lieutenant Mike Moulin, one of the senior officers in charge at the 77th precinct in South Central, takes us inside how the police responded to the very first rioters and the ensuing chaos. He shares his thoughts on what went wrong that day, in terms of police preparedness and response.

Bart Bartholomew was a freelance photographer for The New York Times at the time. While most photographers had huddled at the courtroom, Bartholomew followed his instincts that the better, more original shot was in South Central, where crowds would be reacting. But as a white man with expensive camera equipment, Bartholomew became an instant target. Without the help of Lt. Moulin, he said he wouldn't have made it out alive and his iconic photos of the intersection wouldn't have made it safely to The New York times.

R. Lee Walker was then an officer with the state police who had just arrived at his home at 71st and Normandie when he heard the verdict. As a police officer, he was torn between rushing onto the scene and defending his family.

Mama C. is still a local in South Central. She offers a portrait of the rage that was simmering within the community at the time towards a perceived threat from Korean American business owners and the economic disadvantages she said the community is still experiencing. Mama C. confesses that she too became a rioter and a looter that day.

The Timeline:

April 29, 1992

3:15 p.m.: The not-guilty verdict, delivered by an all-white jury in Simi Valley, is delivered.

4:30 p.m.: The first distress call comes from the Korean-American owner of Tom's Liquor at Florence and Normandie in South Central.

Between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. Lt. Mike Moulin orders his officers to retreat from the scene after driving photographer Bart Bartholomew to safety after he suffered a head injury at Florence and Normandie.

6:00 p.m.: KFWB reporter Pete Demetriou reports live from the scene, noting that he hasn't seen any police officers and that young people are attacking cars and trucks passing through. He is hit by bricks and bottles.

6:30 p.m.: Violent protests had erupted outside police headquarters at Parker Center. Despite the attacks, Chief Gates left for a political fundraiser in Brentwood.

Around 7:00 p.m.: Truck driver Reginald Denny is dragged from his truck at Florence and Normandie and the ensuing beating is captured live on TV by a news helicopter.

8:10 p.m.: The LAPD finally orders a full mobilization of its forces. However, there weren't enough cars to get officers to their assignments.

After 8 p.m. and into the next days: Anarchy breaks out in South Central and spreads to other parts of the city.

Emily Frost contributed reporting and production assistance to this report.

With contributions by Emily Frost

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