RadioWhoWhatWhy: Riotland: Flashing Back from Freddie Gray to Rodney King

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Race riots are as much a part of the American fabric as its troubled history of slavery and its modern legacy of systemic racial bias. While the most recent wave of riots—starting in Ferguson, MO and now in Baltimore—may seem particularly charged, the City of Angels has seen tensions spark events that were just as, if not more, shocking. From the Zoot Suit riots of the 1930s to Watts in 1965, Los Angeles has been the epicenter of racial tension and the scene of occasional spectacular explosions of fury.

Few “modern” events in this category equal the 1992 riots sparked by the verdict in the case of Rodney King, who was savagely beaten by local police. WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman talks to LA-based Ryan Gattis, author of All Involved, about the idea that the King riots represent, to this day, the apogee of American civil unrest. Over the course of six days, 60 were killed, 2,000 injured, and billions of dollars of damage was wrecked over the city.

What can we learn from the 1992 riots about the fraying and disintegration of a city or a culture? What does this very early example of police-caught-on-tape say about the power of video and images to ignite not only racial tinder but also lead to greater police accountability?

According to Gattis, police judgment and tactic missteps will continue to result in anger and violent protests—but it’s not 1992 anymore and with recording devices in the hands of the masses, these missteps could have even more tragic results.

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10 responses to “RadioWhoWhatWhy: Riotland: Flashing Back from Freddie Gray to Rodney King”

  1. spearman says:

    So Michael, the police transcript means nothing in terms of LAPD policies about looking for beating opps? Didn’t you read my post? You’re saying that because he was on parole it was OK to sucker him into running cuz he deserved a beating? Your logic is scary.

  2. Michael Calder says:

    I live in LA. What you don’t mention is Rodney was an ex convict out on parole for a robbery he committed. Rodney, not anyone but him, decided not to pull over when CHP flashed the lights to pull over. Rodney, not anyone else, decided to try and escape and took CHP and then LAPD on a chase. After the car was finally stopped, the other men in the car with Rodney allowed the police to arrest them without incident. Not on tape is Rodney standing up and challenging the LAPD to take him down with force. That is an invitation LAPD is happy to do. Rodney is and was a cliché. A four hundred year cliche.

  3. spearman says:

    Reminds me of the March 3,1991 Rodney King Beating in LA. Soon after the incident Officer Stacey Koon was interviewed on late night talk in Mpls.,WCCO. Koon was the commanding officer at the beating scene. As Koon answered questions I tuned in & got on the line & asked a question about the MO for LA police. I had read the police radio transcript in the NY Review of Books a while before this. It included a conversation between the squad car & the operator back at the LAPD station. The police in the car described their interest in a car they spotted speeding. They said they “were up for a beating tonight”. Base radio responded with, “well, back off & light up”. This was to sucker the driver, King, into thinking he could outrun them leaving the cops with the excuse for a beating. This was the basis for my question to Koon on the talk show. My turn came & I said, “Mr. Koon is it true that the LA cops are in the habit of finding ways to administer beatings during traffic stops?” The moderator said,” well Mr. Koon, how about that?” Mr Koon said,”well when I was there that wasn’t the case.” So he in fact admitted he could only talk about his time there. Unlikely the case considering The NY Review of Books article documented the history of the LAPD with a profile of the Klan & neo Nazi contingents within the force. It had been cultivated by the 1991 chief Gates & his predecessor Chief Parker. Gates had been Parker’s driver and was steeped in Parker’s LAPD culture of racism going back into at least the 40s.

    The other thing about this besides overlooking Parker & Gates condoning of neo-Nazi & KKK police force members is the discussion of the 92 riots & the helicopter video & its effect on the citizenry. This wasn’t anything new as the author Ryan Gattis seems to indicate. I’ll never forget, as a 12 yr old, in 1959, visiting Long Beach, Ca. & watching on LA TV helicopters hovering over Hispanic East LA during rioting there. 1959 was not even likely to have been the 1st time choppers were used for news coverage of LA events. It seems young journalists sometimes overlook very important facets of an issue. Hopefully the novel itself is more thorough.

    • Ben Tucker says:

      There may have been ariel footage in 1959, but it certainly was not live. Bob Tur the chopper pilot who brought us the first live footage of the riots and of Florence and Normandy, was a pioneer in LA Television’s use of live chopper footage for news. Up until then it had mostly been used only for traffic reports. Tur was also the pilot responsible for bringing us the live ariel footage of the OJ Simpson slow speed chase.

    • spearman says:

      It was live in 59.

    • spearman says:

      For many years, Channel 5’s news department, which has existed since its sign-on, was considered the benchmark of Los Angeles television. In 1958, KTLA began operating a well-equipped helicopter for newsgathering known as the “Telecopter”, and was the most advanced airborne television broadcast device of its time; it was ultimately sold to NBC-owned KNBC (channel 4), which flew the Telecopter with pilot Francis Gary Powers and cameraman George Spears until it crashed on August 1, 1977, killing the two on board.

    • spearman says:

      Here’s an amazing art about the 1st live broadcast in 1958 from the KTLA Telecopter.

      http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/zoom-shot-57396049/?c=y%3Fno-ist

    • spearman says:

      The KTLA Telecopter was the world’s first TV News helicopter which first went into operation in 1958.[1] The on-board video and audio equipment communicated with a line of sight KTLA transmitter receiver on top of Mount Wilson. The first helicopter was leased to KTLA by National Helicopter Service and Engineering Company in Van Nuys.[2] For several years, KTLA (channel 5) was the only TV station with a helicopter based TV camera crewed reporting platform.

      The Telecopter was designed and introduced by KTLA chief engineer John D. Silva (1920-2012).[3]

  4. gary says:

    Reminds me of the March 3,1991 Rodney King Beating in LA. Soon after the incident Officer Stacey Koon was interviewed on late night talk in Mpls.,WCCO. Koon was the commanding officer at the beating scene. As Koon answered questions I tuned in & got on the line & asked a question about the MO for LA police. I had read the police radio transcript in the NY Review of Books a while before this. It included a conversation between the squad car & the operator back at the LAPD station. The police in the car described their interest in a car they spotted speeding. They said they “were up for a beating tonight”. Base radio responded with, “well, back off & light up”. This was to sucker the driver, King, into thinking he could outrun them leaving the cops with the excuse for a beating. This was the basis for my question to Koon on the talk show. My turn came & I said, “Mr. Koon is it true that the LA cops are in the habit of finding ways to administer beatings during traffic stops?” The moderator said,” well Mr. Koon, how about that?” Mr Koon said,”well when I was there that wasn’t the case.” So he in fact admitted he could only talk about his time there. Unlikely the case considering The NY Review of Books article documented the history of the LAPD with a profile of the Klan & neo Nazi contingents within the force. It had been cultivated by the 1991 chief Gates & his predecessor Chief Parker. Gates had been Parker’s driver and was steeped in Parker’s LAPD culture of racism going back into at least the 40s.

    The other thing about this besides overlooking Parker & Gates condoning of neo-Nazi & KKK police force members is the discussion of the 92 riots & the helicopter video & its effect on the citizenry. This wasn’t anything new as the author Ryan Gattis seems to indicate. I’ll never forget, as a 12 yr old, in 1959, visiting Long Beach, Ca. & watching on LA TV helicopters hovering over Hispanic East LA during rioting there. 1959 was not even likely to have been the 1st time choppers were used for news coverage of LA events. It seems young journalists sometimes overlook very important facets of an issue. Hopefully the novel itself is more thorough.

  5. gary severson says:

    Reminds me of the March 3,1991 Rodney King Beating in LA. Soon after the incident Officer Stacey Koon was interviewed on late night talk in Mpls.,WCCO. Koon was the commanding officer at the beating scene. As Koon answered questions I tuned in & got on the line & asked a question about the MO for LA police. I had read the police radio transcript in the NY Review of Books a while before this. It included a conversation between the squad car & the operator back at the LAPD station. The police in the car described their interest in a car they spotted speeding. They said they “were up for a beating tonight”. Base radio responded with, “well, back off & light up”. This was to sucker the driver, King, into thinking he could outrun them leaving the cops with the excuse for a beating. This was the basis for my question to Koon on the talk show. My turn came & I said, “Mr. Koon is it true that the LA cops are in the habit of finding ways to administer beatings during traffic stops?” The moderator said,” well Mr. Koon, how about that?” Mr Koon said,”well when I was there that wasn’t the case.” So he in fact admitted he could only talk about his time there. Unlikely the case considering The NY Review of Books article documented the history of the LAPD with a profile of the Klan & neo Nazi contingents within the force. It had been cultivated by the 1991 chief Gates & his predecessor Chief Parker. Gates had been Parker’s driver and was steeped in Parker’s LAPD culture of racism going back into at least the 40s.

    The other thing about this besides overlooking Parker & Gates condoning of neo-Nazi & KKK police force members is the discussion of the 92 riots & the helicopter video & its effect on the citizenry. This wasn’t anything new as the author Ryan Gattis seems to indicate. I’ll never forget, as a 12 yr old, in 1959, visiting Long Beach, Ca. & watching on LA TV helicopters hovering over Hispanic East LA during rioting there. 1959 was not even likely to have been the 1st time choppers were used for news coverage of LA events. It seems young journalists sometimes overlook very important facets of an issue. Hopefully the novel itself is more thorough.