Rodney King, key figure in 1992 LA riots, found dead

LOS ANGELES – Rodney King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation’s history, died Sunday. He was 47.

King’s fiancé called 911 at 5:25 a.m. to report that she found him at the bottom of the swimming pool at their home in Rialto, Calif., police Lt. Dean Hardin said.

Officers arrived to find King in the water and unresponsive, with no signs of foul play. He was transported to Arrowhead Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m, Hardin said.

The San Bernardino County coroner will perform an autopsy within 48 hours.

The 1992 riots, which were set off by the acquittals of the officers who beat King, lasted three days and left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and swaths of Los Angeles on fire. At the height of the violence, King pleaded on television: “Can we all get along?”

King was stopped for speeding on a darkened street on March 3, 1991. Four Los Angeles police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns.

A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a TV station. It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.

It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, Calif. Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.

Violence erupted immediately, starting in South Los Angeles.

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Related:  A Time magazine photo essay of the riots at Irwinator. Of interest, how President George H.W. Bush misjudged the situation.

How LA Korean shopkeepers dealt with rioters and looters, 1992

“Although the day began relatively quietly, by mid-morning on the second day violence appeared widespread and unchecked as heavy looting and fires were witnessed across Los Angeles County. The Korean American community, seeing the police force’s abandonment of Koreatown, organized armed security teams composed of store workers, who defended their livelihoods from assault by the mobs.”

“The Korean men of that generation (my father’s) grew up in a Korea that was still a 3rd world nation and military service was mandatory. In short, they are tough and how know to use a gun.”

“I was best friends with the son of a Popular Korean market chain when this was happening. When the riots were going on, they had men on the roof of the grocery with AK-47′s and other assault rifles ready to take shit down.”

"Among the most durable and dispiriting images of that era, however, were those of Korean merchants taking to their rooftops in the opening hours of the riots, arming themselves because they were convinced that they were alone, that the LAPD would not be there for them. They were right."

Photo and caption from the blog Ask a Korean! Click on the photo to enlarge.

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