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25 years after L.A. riots, Dodgers, Lakers reflect on violent week…
All-Star outfielder Eric Davis remembers sitting in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse that afternoon, staring at the TV in disbelief, too numb to move.
Los Angeles Lakers GM Jerry West was at the Forum in Inglewood, his team on the court during their NBA playoff game, and he was horrified, knowing lives would be changed forever.
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ruben Amaro was sitting on the team bus back to the hotel, still in full uniform staring at the blazing fires alongside the freeway, while tightly gripping the bat in his hands.
Dodgers All-Star outfielder Darryl Strawberry, born and raised in South Central, was praying for his brother’s safety. Michael, a Los Angeles police officer, was patrolling the area when someone took out an AK-47 assault rifle, firing away, with a bullet striking the back of his brother’s head, only for the helmet to save his life.
Twenty-five years ago this weekend, on April 29, 1992, the deadliest race riot in 150 years broke out in Los Angeles.
When the rioting ended, more than 55 people were killed, 2,400 injured, and 12,000 people were arrested. In six days, more than 5,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, 3,100 businesses were affected by looting, leaving more than $1 billion in property damage.
It was a time that stood still, and those who lived it, will never forget it.
“It was mind-blowing how the city erupted,’’ says Davis, who also grew up in South Central, told USA TODAY Sports. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would witness something of that magnitude.
“I don’t condone any violence, but after what happened with that verdict, people got a chance to fight back. And they were going to use everything they had. I’m not going to say what was right or wrong, but I understood the anger.
“We had been sitting on a powder keg for years.
“And when that verdict came down, we exploded.’’
Four white Los Angeles police officers, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind, were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American construction worker.
King, who admittedly was driving 🤬 , led police on a high-speed chase the night of March 3, 1991, when he finally was stopped. He stumbled out of the car, and an amateur 81-second videotape then revealed that he was brutally beaten by police officers. They kicked him, used a Taser, and swung a baton 56 times into King’s body, lying helplessly on the ground.
The 12 jurors in suburban Simi Valley, none of whom were African-American, acquitted each one of the policemen.
“Not guilty, not guilty?’’ says Davis. “Nobody who saw that tape ever thought those white police officers were not guilty. Not guilty? When you have someone beaten that severely? When it’s all on tape?
“This was the time we thought, ‘Well, they can’t get away on this one?’ And they did. It’s like if we can’t get justice on a tape, when can we ever get justice?
“If there was any case that was a slam dunk, this was it. They had a wide-open slam dunk, and missed it.
“So we exploded.’’
It wasn’t just the African-American community that was outraged, but factions of white America too, unable to grasp the rationale of believing it was acceptable for anyone to relentlessly beat an unarmed man with their hands, feet and batons.
“That bothered me, that bothered me a lot, and it still bothers me today,’’ says West, 78, the Hall of Fame player who is now an executive with the Golden State Warriors. “I always try not to be judgmental about things, and I believe that police have the most difficult job in the world, but when I saw that tape, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even watch it. I didn’t know what perpetuated it, but I just could not believe that any man, regardless of what happened, warranted that.
“So I understood why people were angry, I really did. I was angry, too. Oh, my 🤬 , it was just a powder keg that went off. It was a horrible time for me, a horrible time for this community.
“In the course of this country’s history, you’re supposed to learn from the past, and not replicate history.
“Unfortunately, we keep repeating it.’’
There was the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by a neighborhood watchman in 2012. The unrest and protests in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was shot six times and killed by a police officer. The Baltimore protests in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray while being transported in a police vehicle.
“It’s disturbing, because they all have a link to it because of the police,’’ says Davis, now a special assistant with the Cincinnati Reds. “As a black man, we have to take responsibility. We know about Black Lives Matter, and I’m all for that, but then why don’t we do something when innocent black kids are killed in cities.
“Why is there only an outbreak or marches when it involves the police? Do black lives only matter when a cop kills somebody? Chicago is terrorized. But I don’t see people marching every day there.
“I ask myself, does the government really care? Do the governors of these states really care? Do the mayors of these cities really care? Does America really want to clean up?
“It’s been 25 years, and to me, it just seems it’s just getting worse.’’
The biggest difference, of course, is that we have not endured the severity of destruction or the number of deaths from those Los Angeles riots, terrorizing not only a city, but an entire country.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were playing the Philadelphia Phillies that evening when at 3:15 p.m., the verdict was read. There was an immediate outcry, but no immediate signs of violence. Three hours later, demonstrators began gathering outside police headquarters. TV stations started airing scenes of violence near Florence and Normandie.
It was 3 1/2 hours later, 6:46 p.m. to be exact, when TV cameras showed a red 18-wheeler with 27 tons of sand driving to a plant near the Forum. When it entered the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the driver, Reginald Denny, was stopped by rioters, pulled out of his truck and brutally beaten.
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