On April 29, 25 years ago, a jury in Ventura County acquitted four LAPD officers of beating Rodney King. Within hours, violence erupted throughout Los Angeles.
In the end, 54 people died and more than a billion dollars worth of damage was done to the city.
The stunning verdict in the King case was a trigger, but many believe the burning, looting and destruction was a long time coming. A new documentary by Oscar winner John Ridley looks at the historical context of the uprising. It's called "Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992."
Ridley has lived here for years now, but he is not a native Angeleno. He grew up in Wisconsin and moved out to Southern California to try and break into Hollywood in the early 1990s.
He talked to Alex Cohen on Morning Edition about some of the driving forces behind the documentary. Here are some highlights of the interview.
On what it was like to come from Wisconsin to Los Angeles:
I'd been to Los Angeles a few times, and it did seem like sunshine, palm trees and possibilities. But as I started to move out here, people from different backgrounds and different communities – and this was the very striking thing – began to warn me about potential interactions with police officers. Growing up in Wisconsin, police officers weren't just unnamed individuals, these were your best friends' dads, you went to barbecues at their houses ... To arrive out here, when [tape of the Rodney King beating] landed, for a lot of us, myself included of course being new ... just stunned. But for other people to look at that and go, 'Yeah, that's how it happened. That's par for the course. That's nothing.' That was really the surprising thing.
On why 'Let it Fall' begins at 1982:
There was a space from 1982 that could be referred to as the end of the 'chokehold era.' And when I say the chokehold era, up to that time, there was a police technique that was applied to individuals who were proven to be difficult to subdue, and some would say over-applied – or there was a targeted use – of that technique on people of color, black people who were subsequently dying at a higher rate than other individuals ... From the end of that period in the 192 time frame and the introduction of the PR-24, which was the metal baton that ended up being used in the Rodney King assault, we thought that there was a space to put context to the story we were trying to tell.
Click on the blue play button above to hear the Alex's interview in its entirely, when John Ridley talks more about the value of historical context when it comes to remembering the L.A. Riots. You can also hear more about the vision for the documentary itself from Ridley's interview with the The Frame.