Between April 29 and May 2, 1992, the South Central, Koreatown, and Pico Union neighborhoods of Los Angeles became free-fire zones. Confronted with a massive outburst of rage over the acquittal of the four white Los Angeles police officers whose beating of black motorist Rodney King had been spectacularly broadcast to the nation, the LAPD sealed off the "colored" zones of the city from White LA and let them burn. The LAPD's strategy of containment was effective in protecting white LA; it brought massive destruction and death to LA's "Third World."
The mass violence in Los Angeles has been called a slave rebellion, a bread riot, and an urban uprising. 1 The causes for the urban uprising are multiple and complex; in Los Angeles in 1992, there was plenty to be angry about. The outrage over the not-guilty verdict handed down by the all-white jury to the white police officers who had savagely beaten Rodney King reflected the deep racial and class chasm that split the city. The highly militarized LAPD had a long history of treating nonwhite communities as enemy hamlets requiring pacification and containment. Simi Valley, where the trial took place, is one of those white middle-class suburbs that had been developed in the 1970s and -80s while Watts, Central LA, and Compton were being abandoned; an extraordinary 2,000 LAPD officers and their families lived in Simi Valley. Deep recession and structural changes in the political economy of Los Angeles had left the poor black and Latino communities in the inner city more impoverished and more disempowered than ever before.