AFTER THE RIOTS: THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS : Genesis of a Riot
If there was a genesis to the brutal aftermath of the Rodney G. King verdicts, a place where it all began, it was at Florence and Normandie avenues--a thoroughfare that lies gutted and leveled now.
What happened there?
Sides of the story abound: The side of gang-bangers who ignored the suggestion of one of their own to demonstrate peacefully in a white neighborhood. The side of the police, who, outnumbered, seemingly succumbed to bureaucratic paralysis. The side of the victims, viciously attacked while a horrified TV audience watched.
Piece by piece, reel by reel, a chronology of the first hours of rioting is beginning to emerge. Here, patched together from video, audio and printed sources, is what is known so far about what happened at the center that failed to hold.
3:15 p.m.: Over live television, jurors return not guilty verdicts in the trial of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney G. King. Outraged, members of a street gang gather to commiserate in an abandoned house around the corner from Florence and Normandie. One gang member suggests they hold a peaceful demonstration in Westwood or Simi Valley. Instead, some time within the next two hours, some of them head out to Tom’s Liquor Store on the corner and attack the son of the Korean owner.
5:10 p.m.: Mayor Tom Bradley appears on television, expressing shock at the verdict. “We will not accept renegade behavior by a few cops,” he proclaims. At the same time, however, he urges the city to remain calm.
“We must not . . . push back reforms by lashing out blindly,” Bradley implores. “That is why I ask each one of you to come together as never before.”
5:25 p.m.: Police get their first complaint of trouble at Florence and Normandie, as juveniles are reported throwing beer cans at passing motorists. Officers respond.
5:32 p.m.: Police radio dispatcher asks, “Do we have any units in the area of Florence and Normandie?” She adds, “We have a report of a man being attacked in a black vehicle. . . .” Unit answers, “We’re in the area.”
5:35 p.m. (approximately): An amateur video shows a cordon of police struggling to keep several dozen people from spilling onto the street near Florence and Normandie. Sirens wail, a helicopter thwack-thwacks overhead, people scream and shout indistinguishable words. Officers struggle with a black man being taken into custody.
Suddenly, a few officers start to run, while a voice says, “They got their m-----f------ riot gear on.” The camera pans to a scene of pushing and shoving between police and some black men on the sidewalk of a house. An officer’s voice can be heard over a bullhorn saying, “It’s not worth it. Let’s go.”
5:39 p.m.: Reginald O. Denny, a $16.70-an-hour truck driver, is dispatched from an Azusa quarry with orders to deliver 27 tons of sand to an Inglewood cement-mixing plant. He guides his 18-wheeler down its usual route: west on the San Bernardino Freeway, south on the Harbor, off at Florence and through the increasingly perilous intersection of Florence and Normandie.
5:42 p.m.: An officer from 77th Street en route to the station radios that he has a suspect from Florence and Normandie in custody, adding, “This guy is trying to kick his way out of the patrol car.”
5:43 p.m.: LAPD Lt. Mike Moulin, a field commander in the 77th Street Division, orders police dispatchers not to send cars to Florence and Normandie. “I want everybody out of here. Florence and Normandie. Everybody. Get out. Now.”
5:45 p.m. (approximately): People rush the intersection, attacking cars driven by whites and Latinos. Someone picks up a metal sandwich board advertising Marlboros and slams it through the rear window of a Volvo heading west on Florence. Others use crowbars, bottles and rocks. Two police cars, sirens blaring, move through the intersection but do not stop. Panicked, some motorists back up and speed back in the opposite direction. Others accelerate through the lights.
A Latino motorist is pulled from his old, blue sedan and beaten by the crowd. The man runs away, up the street, leaving a female companion behind holding her head.
“Rodney King! Rodney King!” a woman’s voice screeches in the background.
5:54 p.m.: Injuries are reported over the police radio: “We have three victims of rocks and bottles, one male Hispanic, 30, and female Hispanic and child . . . also have 1-year-old child, got hit with a rock and bottle. . . . “
5:59 p.m.: Police operators report a major disturbance--a “415 group call"-- at Normandie and Florence, “Male blacks throwing bottles. . . .”
“Have them disregard that call,” a field supervisor responds, adding, “Until further notice, if any 415 group call comes out, disregard it. Do not send a unit, as per me, unless specified otherwise by Lt. Moulin.”
6 p.m. (approximately): Moulin returns to 77th Street station with a New York Times photographer whom he has rescued on his way from the scene. But his supervisor, Capt. Paul Jefferson, orders Moulin and his troops back into the disturbance.
6:03 p.m.: Amateur videotape shows the windows of Tom’s Liquor Store being smashed. A man grasping a metal pole breaks some glass while a voice says: “Yes! Yes!” Whooping and cheering, a group of a dozen or more go inside. “Break that s---,” a voice says. “Bring all that s--- out.” A few people emerge carrying beer. “You need cigarettes?” a man says. “Here you go.”
6:07 p.m.: Police dispatchers continue to report violent attacks near Florence and Normandie, but police do not respond. “Fifty male blacks throwing rocks at a gray vehicle with a female locked inside,” one operator calls. “Any 77th unit. Code Two High.”
Another operator follows immediately: “77th units, 12X11, 12X11, an ambulance shooting, Gage and Normandie. . . .”
But Moulin repeats his order: “All 77th units . . . this includes . . . CRASH, Predators and anybody else. I don’t want anybody chasing any rocks. . . .”
6:10 p.m.: Moulin’s voice comes over the radio again. “That call that was just broadcast regarding the lone female that was being rocked and bottled by 50 or so individuals . . . make that a Code 3 (emergency) call. . . .”
6:14 p.m.: Moulin’s officers rescue the unconscious woman, but are pelted by the crowd on their way out.
“Be advised we’ve got a large 415 group here at this Code 3 call, this (assault with a deadly weapon) call . . . we’re Code 3, taking rocks and bottles, " a female officer reports. Then a male officer adds, “We’re at Normandie and 71st. We need help. . . . We need help. 71st and Normandie.”
6:15 p.m.: The officers make it through the barrage and report they are on the way to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood with a 30-year-old woman with numerous head injuries. Moulin breaks in: “I want them out of the area again, and I want them over at the (police command post at the) RTD bus station.”
6:16 p.m.: A dispatcher repeats Moulin’s order as a police helicopter pilot radios, “We’re out of here.”
In the background, excited officers weigh in: “We don’t know what the f--- is going on. . . . What the f--- are we doing here?”
6:18 p.m.: A field supervisor suggests that Moulin or Capt. Jefferson “might consider, lieutenant, a tactical alert so we can knock off all the radio call stuff that’s not of an emergency nature. It’s your decision or the captain’s.”
“L1O, Roger,” Moulin replies. “Jefferson is en route to our location. We’re going to make that decision momentarily.”
Someone else asks where Moulin intends to regroup with his officers; 54th and Arlington, he replies.
6:19 p.m.: “For your information,” a dispatcher radios, “citizens report we have a possible (assault) victim missing in the area of 71st and Normandie as a result of the riot there. The victim is described as a man wearing a white T-shirt, 5-feet, 6-inches. . . .”
“We’ll just take that information,” Moulin radios back. “For the present time we are not going to go in that area and search any further for anybody. I want all my units at 54th and Arlington.”
6:20 p.m. to 6:27 p.m.: Dispatchers continue to report riot-related violence. Three people with head wounds at 77th and Holmdale, vandalism at 84th and Vermont, possible burglary in progress on 85th Street, where gang members are “looting, breaking store windows, taking clothing, screaming and fighting.”
Units are told to “disregard that call and go to 54th and Arlington.”
A dispatcher asks, “Do you want me to just have all outside units handle any calls we get and have all the other units go to the (command post)?”
“Disregard,” a field supervisor replies. “We’re going to get this thing together in a few.”
6:29 p.m.: Police helicopter reports a “looting in progress over Manchester and Vermont. . . . Suspects running in all directions, about five male blacks running eastbound . . . store being trashed is Ten Dollar Store at 85th and Vermont. . . . Articles being taken to specific apartment and being stored in carport to the rear of building. . . .”
The report is immediately followed by the voice of a dispatcher. “Shooting in progress, 47th and Broadway, the swap meet, numerous people down. . . .”
6:30 p.m. (approximately): Police Chief Daryl F. Gates leaves Parker Center for a political fund-raiser in Brentwood for opponents of Proposition F, a charter amendment that would make the police chief more accountable to elected officials.
On his way out, a reporter asks him about the police response at Florence and Normandie, and he assures the reporters that his officers will handle any incidents in a mature and calm fashion.
Police Commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum pulls into the parking garage as Gates is pulling out. Sheinbaum asks Gates where he is going. The chief, according to Sheinbaum, doesn’t answer.
6:35 p.m.: The crew aboard police helicopter wonders whether anybody has responded to its call about the looting at 85th and Vermont. The operator replies that “there is no unit responding per (Lt. Moulin).”
“Well, ma’am, we d o have a store that’s been broken into. We d o have people wandering in and out, taking items out of the store, down here at 85th and Vermont. . . .”
6:43 p.m.: Amateur video shows a man being dragged from a white delivery truck and thrown to the ground. As several black men beat him, a voice is heard saying in an admiring tone, “Oh, yeah. Yeah.” The driver staggers toward his truck. “That’s how Rodney King felt, white boy,” another voice says.
6:46 p.m.: Reginald O. Denny, the white trucker, pulls his sand-and-gravel truck into the intersection of Florence and Normandie. Five rioters surround the truck. One yanks open the door and pulls Denny from the cab. At least two others beat his head and kick him, knocking him to the asphalt. One man raises his hands in triumph. Denny tries to move, turning on his side, but another man bashes his skull with a fire extinguisher from the truck. As he lies on the ground, another man walks up and, for about eight seconds, rifles Denny’s pockets, then sprints away with his wallet.
No police officer is in sight.
6:50 p.m.: Police dispatchers issue a flurry of reports. “This is Rover 4417, as they are setting up the command post, we have ADWs (assaults) and 187s (murders) being committed at the corner of Florence and Vermont. . . . Passing motorists are being ADW’ed at the corner of Florence and Vermont, Florence and Normandie. . . . There’s ADWs and 187s being committed . . . 77th (Division) unit en route identify.”
But the calls are met with silence. The closest units have been ordered to mass at the command post.
Finally, a dispatcher replies.
“No 77th units available to respond.”
6:50 p.m.: Tens of thousands see the savage beating on live TV. Among them is Mayor Bradley’s press secretary, who picks up the City Hall phone and tracks down the mayor at First AME Church, where Bradley has joined civic leaders in appealing for calm.
The press secretary tells another Bradley aide that television was showing a man being beaten at Florence and Normandie, and that there was no police response. The aide dials Deputy Chief Matthew Hunt, who reaches 77th Division Capt. Paul Jefferson.
“What the hell is going on out there?” Hunt demands.
6:55 p.m.: Police broadcast a citywide tactical alert, which means that the department will respond only to top-priority calls and that dispatchers can assign emergency calls to units from other parts of the city. More than half an hour has passed since Moulin radioed that a decision on such an alert would be made “momentarily.”
7:02 p.m.: Dispatcher broadcasts that “six male blacks hitting one male white, ADW (assault) in progress . . . any 77th unit to handle . . . Chevron gas station. . . .”
7:06 p.m.: “You might want to advise outside units of more problems out here in 77th,” an unidentified voice suggests over the police radio.
“They’re aware of the problems,” a second unidentified voice replies.
7:08 p.m.: LAPD field supervisors announce they are working on assembling their officers into special squads.
“Be advised,” a field supervisor is heard broadcasting on police radio. “We have squads forming at this point to handle all radio calls and hotshots (emergency calls). Can you please direct all calls in this direction and do not send outside units by themselves to any calls.”
An unidentified officer asks “when these squads will be able to start handling these calls in the area?”
He doesn’t get an answer.
7:10 to 7:15 p.m.: Police dispatchers in the 77th Street Division call again and again for help. “Major group heading toward mall, MLK and Vermont” . . . "(Assault) suspects there now between 81st and 83rd on Western . . . throwing bricks at passing vehicles and pedestrians” . . . “Brooks and 5th. . . . You’re advised there is a race riot” . . . “MLK Boulevard blocked at Palmdale, 415 group throwing rocks and bottles” . . . “shooting at 56th and Normandie” . . . “2nd Avenue at 54th Street . . . car with male black leaning out of window with firearm.”
The bulletins are met with dead air.
7:15 p.m. (approximately): Chief Gates nears his fund-raiser in the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood. Meanwhile, mayoral aide Phil Depoian calls Deputy Chief Hunt at the 54th and Arlington command post.
“Phil, it’s getting ugly,” Hunt reports, according to the aide. “I think we’re going to need the National Guard.”
7:18 p.m.: A Channel 9 helicopter at Florence and Normandie shows trash burning in the street and reports “looting and chaos” for the last 90 minutes.
7:21 p.m.: Channel 9 helicopter reports that there are no police for several blocks.
7:26 p.m.: Smoke bombs go off at Florence and Normandie, and Channel 9 helicopter repeats there is still no police or traffic control. On the police airwaves, a dispatcher contacts a field supervisor.
“Are you the supervisor that advised not to have outside units respond to the 77th Division?”
“We don’t want any units individually responding to any calls at this time,” the supervisor replies, adding the 77th forces are “forming into squads,” to prepare to handle calls. Before he can finish his sentence, however, he is drowned out by another call for help: “211 silent . . . any 77th unit. . . .”
7:28 p.m.: Dispatchers report two emergency calls--an assault and a shooting--"for information only” in the 77th Division.
7:29 p.m.: A car at the liquor store at Florence and Normandie is torched on the amateur video.
7:33 p.m.: Police radio traffic indicates for first time that the 77th Division has finally formed its squads, with a broadcast from “Squad Five” that “we’re going to need another squad at 60th and Normandie” because of a “building fire and a large group gathering.”
7:36 p.m.: Channel 9 helicopter shows two firetrucks and half a dozen police cars on Florence 12 blocks from Normandie.
7:39 p.m.: A Latino at Florence and Normandie is shown on amateur video lying on his back, apparently unconscious.
“They poured oil down his throat,” a voice says, “and painted his nose blue.” A black minister holding a Bible stands over the victim like a guardian angel, keeping others away. Staring upward, he holds his hands outstretched, as if pleading for a miracle.
7:42 p.m.: Firebombs are reported being thrown into buildings at Florence and Normandie. A Channel 9 reporter says by phone that a police command post is forming, then adds that his own windshield was broken by a rock.
7:45 p.m. (approximately): Gates leaves the Brentwood fund-raiser, after commenting to audience on the disorders.
7:51 p.m.: Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Bob Collis tells Channel 9 by phone that the department is responding to the fires in four locations--51st and Normandie, 60th and Normandie, Manchester and Broadway and Century and Main. He says units from other areas are being moved into South Los Angeles, and that medical emergency runs are delayed because of the need for a police escort.
7:53 p.m.: Mayor Tom Bradley addresses an estimated 2,500 at a rally at the First AME Church.
“I have come tonight to say, ‘We have had enough!”’ As Bradley speaks, Channel 7 superimposes live footage of fires burning out of control at Florence and Normandie.
Moments later, Channel 7 removes the footage of the flames. Bradley continues: “We don’t want to resort to violence.”
7:57 p.m.: On the amateur video, firetrucks come down the street but don’t stop. “They’re just going to let it burn,” a voice says. “It’s too dangerous for them. They’re going to let it burn.”
8:10 p.m.: A spokeswoman from Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood reports that people are being treated there for everything from small cuts to very serious injuries.
8:10 p.m.: LAPD begins the two- to four-hour process of placing the department on the emergency status known as “mobilization.”
8:34 p.m.: Live television footage on Channel 9 shows a dozen police cruisers at Florence and Normandie, lighting flares and directing traffic. It is now more than three hours after the first call for police. The crowd is entirely gone.
9 p.m. (approximately): LAPD tells reporters that Gates is on duty at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.