The Untold Story of the LA Riot

The prevailing view about its causes is flawed. The unsettling truth is that incompetence, alcohol, greed and hatred helped make it happen.


His message got swallowed up that night. When the sun set around 7:30 p.m., the crowd at Florence and Normandie started lighting fires; before the night was over, two nearby auto repair stores, a gas station, a TV repair shop, the house of a minister and a church dining room were aflame. Around 8:30 p.m., LAPD squad cars finally returned, but the crowd had dissipated. Meanwhile, under cover of darkness, the violence was shifting from people to property, as looting and arson exploded throughout South Central. The party had begun—and greed and hate, rather than L-O-V-E, were the passwords of the night.

Anatomy of a Riot

Violence at ground zero preceded Reginald Denny's beating. Times are approximate.

  1. 4:20 p.m.: Several black males steal malt liquor bottles and attack David Lee, the store owner's son. The burglars flee before police arrive.
  2. 5:27: Police arrest one man for breaking car windows with a baseball bat and release others suspected of throwing bottles at motorists
  3. 5:34-5:48: Police arrest Seandel Daniels, Cerman Cunningham and Mark Jackson. Angry crowd protests. Lt. Mike Moulin orders officers out of area. Photographer Bart Bartholemew is attacked.
  4. 5:50: Crowd chases fleeing police to Florence and Normandie. They hurl rocks, a metal-covered phone book and a Marlboro sign at Aragon's vehicle.
  5. 5:55: Manuel Vaca, his wife and his brother are pulled from car, beaten and robbed
  6. 6:03: Looting of Tom's Liquor begins
  7. 6:15: While waiting for the bus, Salvador Arzate is beaten and robbed
  8. 6:30: Off-duty fireman Donald Jones rescues a badly beaten motorist, Sai- Choi Choi
  9. 6:43: Larry Tarvin is assaulted while his truck is looted
  10. 6:46: Trucker Reginald Denny is pulled from cab, robbed and badly beaten
  11. 7:16: Gregory Alan-Williams saves bloodied Takao Hirata after another would-be rescuer is beaten.
  12. 7:35: A building and a car are reported to be on fire. The sun has set.
  13. 7:42: Rev. Bennie Newton saves Fidel Lopez after he is beaten, robbed and spray-painted
  14. 8:30: Police return in force to Florence and Normandie.