The water from one bucket, thrown by one man, couldn't douse the flame that shot from the neighborhood store. Streets swarming with defiant youths, whole city blocks on fire, looters streaming out of stores with anything they could carry--these were images the nation hadn't seen for years and had hoped never to see again. The shock of the verdict in the Rodney King beating case was overtaken only by the shock at the lawlessness that broke out in L.A.
Frustration turned into fury. Justice was beyond their reach, many blacks believed--but revenge could be taken nearer at hand. A cop car was one obvious target; so was the glass door of the Criminal Courts building. Asians, long resented by blacks, felt the pain of fire. But for the most part the rioters turned on their own. Even signs saying "Black-owned, Don't Burn" failed to save their businesses.
As the anger and blood, exhaustion and hurt, spilled out of TV screens across the country, millions of Americans became fearful that the unrest would spread to their own cities. Last week's Los Angeles riots were the deadliest in 25 years. And a sad conclusion was inescapable: that rather than shaking a nation to action, the violence would only inflame the same fears that surrounded the beating and trial of Rodney King.