The verdicts of Rodney King’s trial and the Latasha Harlins murder trial turned Los Angeles on its head in the Spring of 1992. Five days of rioting that blocked streets, looted stores, and set fires to buildings killed 63 people, injured 2,383 and led to the arrest of 12,11. This is the subject matter of a powerful documentary now streaming on Netflix titled “LA 92”.
Citizens of LA were outraged when a video filmed by a witness was released to the media showing four LAPD officers brutally beating King with batons, kicking, and tasing him for several minutes while King lay on the ground.
After a three month trial, an all-white jury found the four defendants not guilty.
Tensions rose even higher between the Korean and Black communities after the death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins two weeks after King’s confrontation with police. Video footage shows Soon Ja Du, owner of a convenience store in Harlins’s area, shoot Harlins in the back of the head after grabbing her backpack and trying to peer inside with the suspicion that the teen had stolen a bottle of orange juice.
Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1991 for the murder of Latasha Harlins.
Former Judge Joyce Karlin was condemned for sentencing Du to a $500 fine, 5 years of probation, and 400 hours of community service and no prison time justifying that she “knows what a criminal looks like” and “believes that Du will not offend again” in an interview.
For many LA residents, the two videotapes and the lax sentencings that followed were symbols of racial injustice reflected in the community and politics and many also considered Du’s verdict a catalyst to the riots that followed. Many people chose to express their anger by attacking the residents of LA’s Koreatown as 65% of the arsons and looting targeted Korean-run businesses.
Comparisons have been made between the Rodney King case and now, the Stephon Clark case. Both high profile cases received national attention involved young Black men that were either beat or killed by white officers convicted of using excessive force.
Protests prior to the defendants in King’s case mirrored Clark’s: highly emotional, sporadic, but relatively peaceful before the riots.
Sacramento Police Chief Han explained in an interview with Fox 40 how law enforcement plans to stay dynamic in case riots break out.
The independent autopsy of Clark’s injuries revealed that Clark was shot 6 times in his back, contradicting police’s alibi, and the recent incident in which a patrol car hit a protester and drove off has concerned many residents as heated tension grows larger in the streets of Sacramento.