“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.” – Frederick Douglass, 1852
Douglass’ quote opens LA 92, a documentary film about the 25th anniversary of the Rodney King riots of 1992. It features rare footage and a raw, gripping view of King’s beating, the racially motivated murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins less than two weeks later, and the riots that destroyed Los Angeles neighborhoods.
In the film’s first few moments, Oscar-winning directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin set the tone and context for the next two-hours.
The documentary shifts to a visual rundown of the Watts riots of 1965, which provide a roadmap and example of what can and will happen when marginalized and dehumanized communities have had enough.
The film includes video footage of two events vital to the uprising – one, King’s beating from LAPD officers; and two, Harlins’ murder by a Korean store owner who thought she was stealing a bottle of orange juice, although Harlins had the money for the juice in her hand the whole time.
Du was sentenced to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, a small fine, but no prison time.
In a press conference about Du’s verdict, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, said, “The judge declared that [Harlins’] life was not valuable enough.”
Five months after Du’s trial, the LA-4 would testify to what they were thinking as they assaulted King.
“I was completely in fear for my life,” said Laurence Powell, one of the officers.
We’ve heard this many times before, unfortunately, regularly over the last several years – specifically in police accounts of the shooting deaths of unarmed Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and countless other black men, women and children.
When the officers were found not guilty on April 29, 1992, the city erupted in protests, driver beatings, arson, looting and outrage.
In a televised address, Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’ first black mayor, shared his disagreement with the verdict.
“No, our eyes did not deceive us. We saw what we saw, and what we saw was a crime,” he said.
We saw what happened in 1965; in 1992; in 2013; in 2014; in 2015. As our society progresses, history is eerily, more closely, disturbingly, repeating itself.
Police shootings from Baltimore to Ferguson, Chicago, New York and other U.S. cities have sparked uprisings born of marginalization, disappointment and frustration.
“How many more Rodney Kings does it have to be? How many more Latasha Harlins does it have to be?” asked Charles Muhammad, Nation of Islam member, in scenes from a meeting at the First AME Church of Los Angeles.
When will #BlackLivesMatter in America? What will it take for black people to be seen as human, valuable, and worthy of respect, dignity and justice?
The documentary begs the question: When is it going to stop? When will video footage of these incidents make a difference and ensure police officers and others who wrongly kill and injure black people are punished for their crimes?
The film proves that America has a race problem, and that it has had a race problem that it is doing little to nothing about.
LA 92 is a poignant, authentic display of humanity, the power of anger and peace, and what it feels like to be deemed “less than human” in America. Everyone who cares about social justice needs to watch this film.