On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of charges of assault in relation to the Rodney King beatings. In a time of high tension between the LAPD and residents of LA, the acquittal of these officers was the last straw and set off a full-blown riot that resulted in the death of 53 and injuries to over 2,000 residents of South Central. According to Charles Bremner, “there was no mystery about the forces that led the Los Angeles jury to turn a blind eye to the most vividly documented police beating in American history. Their decision, like the riots which followed, was a symptom of the fears and hatred between blacks and whites which have heated again to boiling point in America during the past decade.”1 The damage to the city and the emotional aftermath of these riots lead some to describe South Central Los Angeles as an “economic wasteland”2. The riots would come to define a major turning point in history as well as serve as a point of comparison for cases of discrimination within the United States.
The most recent example in the headlines today involves Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. The shooting of Trayvon Martin occurred on February 26, 2012. George Zimmerman, a man part of the community’s neighborhood watch, saw Trayvon Martin walking in the private community and called 911 to report suspicious behavior. He then took it upon himself to approach Martin and what resulted of this was a fatal gunshot wound that would kill him. The death of Martin would gain national attention because inquiries on whether or not the crime committed was racially motivated. Questions were also brought up concerning the conduct of the police during their investigation. Allegations of misconduct and Initial investigations would determine that Zimmerman was in fact acting in self-defense and the police had no evidence or reason to believe otherwise. However, on March 20th the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the U.S. Justice department began their own investigations into the incident.
The issues of both cases stem from issues of racism, which continues to be a subject of major public discussion. In the case of the LA Riots, the underlying tension and racism within the community would have made it seem “that America had erased its civil rights achievements and leapt back to the late 1960s and the years of black rage, from Watts, in Los Angeles, through Detroit and Newark, to Washington DC”3. In the case of Rodney King, there was a videotape of the beatings taken by a witness and “as the issue festered and anger grew among minority groups, the 81-second videotape of the beating took on ever-greater symbolism, transcending the legal guilt or innocence of the officers. It came to represent long-standing issues of racism and police misconduct, for complaints of racial imbalance in the justice system, and finally for the ills of the nation's cities and the slowness of local and Federal governments in trying to resolve them.” 4
The release of the videotape would lead to intense scrutiny of all aspects of the case from juror selection to the location of the actual trial. The members of the jury for the cases against Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officer Theodore Briseno, Officer Laurence Powell and Officer Timothy Wind consisted of eleven white jurors and one of Filipino descent. This was an issue in itself because of the lack of black jurors, which only lead to outcries of inequality and blatant racism within the court system.
These two incidents are similar in that they serve “examples of the volatile history of American racial relations.”5 The LA riots were the results of a growing underlying tension between vastly the different ethnic communities both with each other and with the Los Angeles Police Department. The population of South Central consisted mainly of a large black community along with a large Korean and Hispanic community all within one neighborhood. The combination of