A 1992 RETROSPECTIVE : Turmoil and Transition : A ‘Flash Point’ Trial, a City in Flames, a Challenge for New Leaders

When the history of 1992 is written, it will begin on April 29.

To be sure, much transpired before that warm Wednesday when a jury returned not guilty verdicts on four officers accused in the beating of Rodney G. King. Willie L. Williams had already been named to replace Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. Several police reform proposals had been put on the ballot. Four black gangs based in a Watts housing project had declared a truce.

But on April 29, the city began to burn. The worst civil disturbance in modern times--to some a riot, to others a rebellion--swept through Los Angeles, devastating whole neighborhoods and killing 52 people. After that, the year’s events--even those that had grabbed headlines before the riots--would always be seen through a prism of smoke and pain.

Natural calamities--deadly rains that flooded Ventura County, earthquakes that rattled the Southland--were inevitably compared to the spring’s man-made disaster. The state budget crisis and the slumping economy had been noteworthy even before the riots. But afterward, as Los Angeles struggled to recover from an estimated $1 billion in uninsured losses, such fiscal uncertainties seemed all the more dire.


At year’s end, the city placed its hopes in the promise of new leadership. Williams took the helm at the LAPD. Gil Garcetti replaced Ira Reiner as district attorney. The first African-American to be elected county supervisor took office. The Los Angeles Board of Education named its first Latina president. And more than a dozen mayoral hopefuls began campaigning to replace Tom Bradley when he retires in June, 1993.

But politicians can provide only part of the solution. Ordinary individuals, still haunted by memories of their city out of control, will also struggle to set things right. For them, and for all of us, remembering April 29 is a painful but necessary part of making Los Angeles, if not a City of Angels, at least a city of hope.