There is a whole generation of people born since 1990 -- some of whom probably have no idea who Rodney King was.
Yet for those old enough to remember what came to be known as the "Rodney King Riots," his name brings back bitter memories of a dark period in our country's history.
On Sunday, King was found dead in his swimming pool. He was 47 years old. It was a sad end to the troubled life of a man who had repeated brushes with the law and a lifelong addiction to alcohol and drugs. King will go down in the history books as the parolee who was beaten to within an inch of his life by Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed chase and who became the reluctant poster child for police brutality. The incident captured on videotape set into motion a chain of events that led to one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.
In the spring of 1992, I was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times.
The city was on edge. We were waiting for a verdict from a courtroom in Simi Valley where four police officers were on trial for beating King. An eyewitnesses' videotape showed LAPD officers hitting, kicking and zapping King with a Taser.
The video went viral and was played hundreds of times on television.
Because of the intense pretrial publicity, a judge ordered a change of venue.
Simi Valley, the new location, couldn't have been more hospitable to the defendants. It is a predominately white community that is home to many
Ten whites, one Latino, one Asian were selected to serve on the jury. There were no blacks.
At 3:15 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, the jury announced not guilty verdicts on almost all charges.
I was astounded. Then furious. How could the jurors ignore the videotape evidence? King had been speeding and was drunk when he got stopped. But did they really think that was justification for such savagery? Was this some throwback to the kangaroo courts of the Deep South?
The verdict was so outrageous that even the normally nonconfrontational Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the first African-American to hold the post, proclaimed: "The jury's verdict will not blind us to what we saw on that videotape."
President George H.W. Bush also said he was stunned by the outcome and that the verdict did not seem to jibe with what was on the video.
I had promised to pick up a friend who was visiting her sister. Compton was about the last place on Earth I wanted to go after the verdicts were announced. But I didn't want to leave her stranded in a place where I figured all hell was likely to break loose.
I picked her up and high-tailed it back to LA.
It had gotten dark.
As I headed down La Cienega Boulevard, I saw smoke. A tire store was on fire. Across the street, someone had bashed in the windows of a convenience store. A barefoot woman in a nightgown was running across shards of glass -- her arms overflowing with cartons of cigarettes. Other people were loading big appliance boxes into cars, onto bicycle seats and into wheelbarrows.
Chaos rained for the next six days.
Arsonists set thousands of fires. People were shooting at the firefighters who tried to put them out.
King pleaded for an end to the violence. "Can we all get along," he said at a news conference.
But the verdicts had unleashed a Pandora's box of race warfare.
Black mobs attacked whites and Asians. They burned down everything in their path including stores that had hastily erected "black-owned signs."
I went out late one night with a Korean L.A. Times colleague to a strip mall where Korean shopkeepers determined to protect their businesses were barricaded behind sandbags -- armed with Glocks and shotguns. They did not take too kindly to the presence of an African-American reporter.
The racial strife was also being played out in our newsroom. The few nonwhite reporters were angered by the verdict. Yet some white reporters and editors argued that King was himself to blame.
Yet in the midst of this horrible time, there were acts of extraordinary kindness and courage.
An African-American colleague at the Times risked his life to rescue a Vietnamese woman who had been attacked by a mob.
The riots brought out the worst in many, but others rose to the occasion.