If there was a genesis to the brutal aftermath of the Rodney G. King verdicts, a place where it all began, it was at Florence and Normandie avenues--a thoroughfare that lies gutted and leveled now.
What happened there?
Sides of the story abound: The side of gang-bangers who ignored the suggestion of one of their own to demonstrate peacefully in a white neighborhood. The side of the police, who, outnumbered, seemingly succumbed to bureaucratic paralysis. The side of the victims, viciously attacked while a horrified TV audience watched.
Piece by piece, reel by reel, a chronology of the first hours of rioting is beginning to \o7 emerge. Here, patched together from video, audio and printed sources, is what is known so far about what happened at the center that failed to hold.\f7
3:15 p.m.: Over live television, jurors return not guilty verdicts in the trial of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney G. King. Outraged, members of a street gang gather to commiserate in an abandoned house around the corner from Florence and Normandie. One gang member suggests they hold a peaceful demonstration in Westwood or Simi Valley. Instead, some time within the next two hours, some of them head out to Tom's Liquor Store on the corner and attack the son of the Korean owner.
5:10 p.m.: Mayor Tom Bradley appears on television, expressing shock at the verdict. "We will not accept renegade behavior by a few cops," he proclaims. At the same time, however, he urges the city to remain calm.
"We must not . . . push back reforms by lashing out blindly," Bradley implores. "That is why I ask each one of you to come together as never before."
5:25 p.m.: Police get their first complaint of trouble at Florence and Normandie, as juveniles are reported throwing beer cans at passing motorists. Officers respond.
5:32 p.m.: Police radio dispatcher asks, "Do we have any units in the area of Florence and Normandie?" She adds, "We have a report of a man being attacked in a black vehicle. . . ." Unit answers, "We're in the area."
5:35 p.m. (approximately): An amateur video shows a cordon of police struggling to keep several dozen people from spilling onto the street near Florence and Normandie. Sirens wail, a helicopter thwack-thwacks overhead, people scream and shout indistinguishable words. Officers struggle with a black man being taken into custody.
Suddenly, a few officers start to run, while a voice says, "They got their m-----f------ riot gear on." The camera pans to a scene of pushing and shoving between police and some black men on the sidewalk of a house. An officer's voice can be heard over a bullhorn saying, "It's not worth it. Let's go."
5:39 p.m.: Reginald O. Denny, a $16.70-an-hour truck driver, is dispatched from an Azusa quarry with orders to deliver 27 tons of sand to an Inglewood cement-mixing plant. He guides his 18-wheeler down its usual route: west on the San Bernardino Freeway, south on the Harbor, off at Florence and through the increasingly perilous intersection of Florence and Normandie.
5:42 p.m.: An officer from 77th Street en route to the station radios that he has a suspect from Florence and Normandie in custody, adding, "This guy is trying to kick his way out of the patrol car."
5:43 p.m.: LAPD Lt. Mike Moulin, a field commander in the 77th Street Division, orders police dispatchers not to send cars to Florence and Normandie. "I want everybody out of here. Florence and Normandie. Everybody. Get out. Now."
5:45 p.m. (approximately): People rush the intersection, attacking cars driven by whites and Latinos. Someone picks up a metal sandwich board advertising Marlboros and slams it through the rear window of a Volvo heading west on Florence. Others use crowbars, bottles and rocks. Two police cars, sirens blaring, move through the intersection but do not stop. Panicked, some motorists back up and speed back in the opposite direction. Others accelerate through the lights.
A Latino motorist is pulled from his old, blue sedan and beaten by the crowd. The man runs away, up the street, leaving a female companion behind holding her head.
"Rodney King! Rodney King!" a woman's voice screeches in the background.
5:54 p.m.: Injuries are reported over the police radio: "We have three victims of rocks and bottles, one male Hispanic, 30, and female Hispanic and child . . . also have 1-year-old child, got hit with a rock and bottle. . . . "
5:59 p.m.: Police operators report a major disturbance--a "415 group call"-- at Normandie and Florence, "Male blacks throwing bottles. . . ."
"Have them disregard that call," a field supervisor responds, adding, "Until further notice, if any 415 group call comes out, disregard it. Do not send a unit, as per me, unless specified otherwise by Lt. Moulin."
6 p.m. (approximately): Moulin returns to 77th Street station with a New York Times photographer whom he has rescued on his way from the scene. But his supervisor, Capt. Paul Jefferson, orders Moulin and his troops back into the disturbance.