L..A. Riots' Key Figures: Rodney King, Reginald Denny & More (Photos)
Twenty years later, Rodney King is weighing in on the Trayvon case, Reginald Denny has gone underground, and one of the “L.A. Four” is dead. The Daily Beast looks at where the riots’ indelible names ended up.
Susan Ragan / AP Photos (left); Nick Ut / AP Photos The L.A. Four
Damian Williams, Antoine Miller, Henry Watson, Gary Williams, Anthony Brown and Lance Parker were nicknamed “The L.A. Four”—though they were actually six—and were the main perpetrators of Reginald Denny’s beating. Williams was the only one who actually served time for the time, doing four years of a ten-year sentence for striking Denny on the head with a concrete cinderblock. In 2000, Williams was convicted for participation in a drug-related murder and is
currently serving a 46-year sentence. Watson was also convicted for beating Denny, but only of a misdemeanor assault and was freed after the trial. Watson too was later jailed again, this time for three years on a drug conviction; today he’s the owner of a limousine rental company. The other four were cleared of all charges. Miller was later killed in a nightclub shooting.
Tonya Evat, Sygma / Corbis Daryl Gates
Gates, chief of the LAPD at the time, took heat for what criticals called a mute response to both the initial Rodney King furor and the court verdict that ultimately sparked the riots. He resigned in late 1992, but
told Time in 2007 [ that he had no regrets about his handling of the riots. Gates stayed in California, with a brief stint on talk radio, helping launch a crime-solving computer game called Police Quest 4, and serving on the board of a surveillance company. In 2002, he told CNN that he wanted his job at the helm of the LAPD back, but many treated his candidacy as a joke and the post went to Bill Bratton. Gates died in 2010 after a battle with bladder cancer.
Lois Bernstein / AP Photos Rep. Maxine Waters
Then a freshman, Rep. Waters, who represents south-central Los Angeles, became the outspoken advocate of the rioters, calling it “a spontaneous reaction to inequality and injustice” on the Today show and demanding a statement from President George H.W. Bush. Waters continued to be the authoritative voice on the riots in the following months. And she’s been vocal in Congress ever since, speaking out against hot topics like the Iraq War and the U.S. involvement in Haiti’s coup. In 2010, an
investigation was launched by the House Ethics Committee on whether or not she arranged meetings between the Treasury and her husband’s bank. The trial is ongoing, but it hasn’t dinted Waters’s ambition to stay and serve. She is now the most senior of the 12 black women serving in Congress.
George Holliday/ AP Photos (inset): AP Photos Rodney King
King was awarded $3.8 million from a federal case against the L.A. officers, but the money didn’t end his troubles. He used some the cash to start a record label,
Straight Alta-Pazz Recording Company, but it subsequently folded. Later, he was arrested twice—for allegedly hitting his wife with his car in 1995 and drunk driving in 2003. Then, in 2008, King checked himself into rehab in California, appearing on the show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and its spinoff Sober House. King opened up about his experiences on the show, even visiting the site of his beating. In 2012, he weighed in on the controversial Trayvon Martin case, issuing a statement expressing his grief and saying: “The horrifying sound of a young black male screaming for his life on a 911 call reminded me of my horrifying scream on a videotape 20 years ago.” He also added that it was important for America to “come together to make sure that justice is done. This is about something bigger than race—this is about justice.” Alan Levenson, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images Reginald Denny
The beating of Reginald Denny was one of the most horrifying moments of the L.A. riots. Denny, a truck driver taking a shortcut down Santa Monica boulevard on the first day of the riots, was pulled from his cab and brutally beaten by black men—while a news helicopter broadcast the event live. Denny survived, but his skull was fractured in 91 places by a cinderblock and he suffered permanent speech and walking disabilities. Even so, he agreed to
appear on the Phil Donahue Show in 1993 to shake hands with one of his perpetrators, who apologized. In 1999, Denny told People that he forgave his assailants, but was clearly still scarred; he described himself as “withdrawn” and unwilling to “venture around so freely as perhaps I used to.” Denny has moved to Arizona, where he works as a boat motor mechanic, according to Time, which tried to track him down in 2007 but was unable to make direct contact.
Damian Dovarganes / AP Photos Rev. Chip Murray
Head of the Los Angeles First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray was the calm in the storm as the riots erupted in LA. On the first night of the protests, Murray gathered 5,000 of his parishioners together to pray for peace while fires burned just a block away. When firemen refused to enter the neighborhood, the Reverend and some of his constituents offered to stand as a shield between them and the rioters. After retiring from the Church, Murray joined the faculty at the University of Southern California as the Chair of Christian Ethics for the School of Religion. In 2011, Murray was appointed to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence and charged with investigating abuses.
Judge Larry Fidler
Presiding over the trial of the “LA Four” was Judge Larry Fidler, the supervising judge of LA Superior Court, who ordered them to be tried on 35 felony charges for the beating of Reginald Denny. In a
2001 interview with PBS, Fidler reflected on the King case: “Clearly we have problems with race. Race is an issue that does exist, and there are strong feelings in the various minority communities concerning L.A.P.D. When these incidents happen, it fuels their beliefs, and it just sets off the dialogue again and the feelings…And you have this very spirited debate that sometimes goes beyond mere words.” Fidler went to preside over another controversial trial, that of the Phil Spector murder case. He went on to work on the Phil Spector murder case, allowing a first trial (which resulted in a hung jury) to be televised, and presiding again over a second trial that produced a guilty verdict.