This is our third installment in a series of as-told-to stories from Angelenos who witnessed the first 48 hours of the 1992 riots. Tim Goldman, who was in his 30s at the time, lived near the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues when the violence erupted. He had returned to his hometown of L.A. the previous year after spending a decade as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
That day I was in Gardena helping some friends move. We were traveling back and forth from downtown through South L.A. I remember walking into the home and everyone appeared to be sad. When I heard about the verdicts my heart just fell into my stomach. I was stunned. We can do this move later, they agreed.
I headed back to the home where I was staying, at 75th and Vermont. My friend Alfred, who stayed down the street, was there. Maybe five or 10 minutes later I could hear him yelling: "Hey, there's something going down at Florence and Normandie. We have to go." We rolled in his truck. It was just a few blocks away. We got to Naomi and 73rd and, because of the commotion, traffic was at a standstill. I jumped out of the truck.
Alfred beat me to Florence and Normandie. I witnessed the LAPD making arrests. That's when I started recording video. It was during the initial standoff with the LAPD. I was there when the police retreated. Bart Bartholomew, a New York Times photographer, was one of the first persons attacked at the intersection.
You have that amount of police, it's not normal, basically. Of course people were upset, and the police presence attracted more individuals to that area, which led to what happened at Florence and Normandie. Initially it started at 71st and Normandie, where they were making some arrests. There was some rock-throwing at police vehicles.
The last police car left. That drew most of the people into the intersection. There was really nothing going on at Florence and Normandie until the police withdrew. The last police car, you can see it on the video, it left, then people took the place of police. And they stayed. It became a crossroads, and things started to unfold.
They started looting Tom's Liquor store. There was looting prior to the liquor store, [but] the most intense beatings came after the liquor store. People will say it had nothing to do with it. But I think alcohol had something to do with it.
People were pulled out of their vehicles. I stood on top of a car recording [truck driver] Larry [Tarvin] as he approached the intersection. When he was pulled out of his truck I ran around the back and recorded him on the ground.
Then [Reginald] Denny comes to the intersection and my brother is recording Denny being pulled out of the truck and laying on the ground. It happened so fast I never saw the Denny attack firsthand, but I did record him on his knees as he was struggling to get back into his truck. My brother was also running out of battery.
Buildings were set on fire, the liquor store was on fire, an auto parts store was on fire, a furniture store was on fire. They saw the police weren't reacting. The sun went down.
I stayed until the fire trucks came through. They didn't stop. I said they're going to let it burn. I said they have to be waiting on a police escort, and probably they didn't get it. They cut through, turned right on Normandie and kept going north. The time stamp on my video camera shows me leaving around 8:10. I had enough for the day, and I turned my camera off. I had been at the intersection for three or four hours. I was at the intersection longer than anybody, including some of the guys who committed a lot of the crimes there.
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I came out the second day for a little bit. I went to 84th and Vermont. It was in the morning and we were with a few friends. The Sheriff's Department was out and the LAPD was there. There was a standoff with police with
some guys who had snatched a bank safe out of a wall and dragged it down the street with a car. It broke loose. You could see gang members closer to 83rd and Hoover. The safe was in the middle of the street. The standoff lasted a half-hour or so.
The National Guard was in town. I can remember seeing them on top of buildings. It was kind of weird, the presence of military in the streets of L.A. like that. It was just so chaotic. You'd see fire trucks go north on Vermont and then go south on Vermont. At night there were no street lights, no lights in homes, it was completely pitch black. Police were out patrolling.
After that I got out of Los Angeles for a couple days. It was just too wild. I went to Fullerton. I didn't feel safe in Los Angeles. My brother and my best friend didn't want anything to do with the tapes once they recorded them — because they knew a lot of the guys who committed the acts out there. For me, there were threats. I felt I was ostracized by the black community for videotaping. It's one of the reasons I left L.A.