While we were talking to LA Weekly photographer Ted Soqui about his coverage of the L.A. Riots, he mentioned that he'd only recently realized how much riot footage was up on YouTube.
“I didn't get to see much live TV coverage because I was either shooting or processing; I was in a bubble with my photos,” said Soqui. But on this 20th anniversary, in preparation for a speech/slideshow at the Los Angeles Central Library, he said, “I ended up watching hours of stuff on YouTube. And I'm like, 'Wow, I never saw that.'” So we did the same…
… and, sure enough, came across all this crazy footage that we had never even thought to search for. As if '92 was before the invention of moving pictures, or something.
In fact, the aftermath of the Rodney King beating was really the start of accountability via YouTube. “There had been number of cases of LAPD brutality earlier, but here you have a case finally on videotape,” says Darnell Hunt, UCLA expert on the Riots. Like, “Finally, people will listen to us.”
With that, here are the five most disturbing riot-related videos we found on YouTube.
Many of the shops targeted by looters were located within Koreatown and nearby neighborhoods like East Hollywood, owned by working-class businesspeople within the growing Korean-American community. Here, we see them patrolling their rooftops at the corner of Santa Monica and Western with guns — part castle guard, part sniper.
LA Weekly's Dennis Romero recently interviewed a Korean-American reporter who was working for the Los Angeles Times when the riots broke out. It appeared to him that the LAPD was using the bad blood between blacks and Koreans to distract the public from the department's own racism. TV news footage like the clip above only furthered that cause.
And here's a guy who actually begins shooting his gun at random.
The sheer recklessness of this looter, ramming an SUV through someone's storefront as if it were a toy car — as another huge building is engulfed in flames not a block away — captures the abandon of all structure/civility. Like the one before it, this video was shot at Santa Monica and Western, which became a real hub for the Riots after they spread from South Central.
Over 500 fires are said to have blazed through Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict, forming an oppressive layer of smoke over the city. UCLA's Hunt told us that even where he lived in Venice, far from the epicenter, “smoke and soot were everywhere.” How disturbing to watch L.A. rooftops catch flame like trees in a forest fire.
Reginald Denny, an oblivious white man trying to drive his semi through South Central, was pulled from the cab and beaten almost to death by an angry mob reacting to the Rodney King verdict. He never fully recovered.
(LA Weekly photographer Soqui actually tells us that former LA Daily News photog Craig Fujii was severely injured after being mauled by this same crowd, and that he was included in the court case against the attackers. Fujii has since moved to Hawaii.)
Here's the video that started it all. If LAPD bullies could get away with such unabashed racism and cruelty, what was the point of continuing to live by their rules? So, as you're well aware by now, all hell broke loose.
Hunt, the Riots expert from UCLA, does point out that the King beating and verdict was just a “fuse for the fuel that had been amassing beneath the surface.”