All About Guns California Cops

Rodney King, Latasha Harlins, Rooftop Koreans, and the Terminator by WILL DABBS

The grisly beating of Rodney King ultimately precipitated some of the worst rioting in American history.

Early in the morning of March 3, 1991, Rodney Glen King was driving a 1987 Hyundai Excel along the Foothill Freeway in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. He was accompanied by his friends Freddie Helms and Bryant Allen. King and his buddies had killed the previous evening watching basketball and drinking at a friend’s house. At around 1230 in the morning, King passed Tim and Melanie Singer, a husband/wife California Highway Patrol team. The Singers initiated a pursuit, eventually reaching speeds of 117 mph. King refused to pull over.

Rodney King was a convicted criminal whose beating at the hands of overzealous police sparked widespread anarchy.

King later admitted that he knew a DUI charge would violate his parole and send him back to prison. 2.5 years earlier King had robbed a Korean grocery store while armed with an iron bar. He assaulted the store owner and made off with $200 cash. King was eventually apprehended, tried, and convicted. He served one year of a two-year sentence before being released.

Rodney King was desperate to avoid returning to jail.

King departed the freeway and led the cops on a merry chase through residential neighborhoods at high speeds. The pursuit eventually involved multiple police units from different agencies as well as a police helicopter. After some eight miles the officers finally cornered King and stopped his car.

The arresting officers didn’t realize they were being filmed when they beat King and his buddies.

King’s two companions were removed from the vehicle and arrested albeit with some violence. Freddie Helms was later treated for a laceration to his head. For his part, King purportedly giggled and waved at the orbiting helicopter. The senior LAPD officer onsite took charge and directed the LAPD contingent to swarm King for a takedown.

The four arresting LAPD officers beat the holy crap out of this guy.

Up until this point the cops were clearly in the right. However, everybody involved was energized. The arresting officers beat King mercilessly and tased him at least once. Medical personnel later documented a right ankle fracture, a crushed facial bone, and sundry contusions and lacerations. King’s Blood Alcohol Content indeed showed him to have been legally intoxicated. His tox screen was also positive for marijuana. Without the knowledge of the police, a local plumbing salesman named George Holliday shot a video of the brutal beating. This footage eventually made it into the media.

Rodney King was beaten right across the street from the movie set on the night this iconic scene was filmed .

The story behind the Holliday footage is simply fascinating. The opening biker bar scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was being filmed just across the street from where the cops finally stopped King’s Hyundai. Holliday actually had his video camera set up in hopes of catching a glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

During a subsequent interview he said, “Before the beating, right across the street from where we lived was a biker bar, and they were filming Terminator 2: Judgment Day there. I actually have footage on the original tape of Schwarzenegger getting on the bike and riding off.” Had they not been filming the movie, Holliday would not have had his video camera in position and ready.

Latasha Harlins’ life was a study in urban tragedy.

Thirteen days later, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins entered Empire Liquor in Los Angeles and put a $1.79 bottle of orange juice in her backpack. Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American woman who owned the establishment along with her husband, confronted her about it. Du claimed that Harlins denied having the juice. Two young witnesses disputed that claim, asserting that Harlins had the money for the juice in her hand and was planning to pay for it.

Latasha’s was an unimaginably broken home life.

Latasha Harlins was the product of some of the most sordid stuff. Her father regularly beat her mother until they eventually separated. When Latasha was nine years old her father’s new girlfriend shot and killed her mother in a dispute outside an LA nightclub. The poor girl was subsequently raised by her maternal grandmother.

Soon Ja Du gunned down Latasha Harlins in cold blood.

Harlins and Du got into a shouting and shoving match, and Du ended up on the floor. As Harlins turned to leave, Du retrieved a revolver from behind the counter and shot the girl once in the back of the head, killing her instantly. Though she was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Du was only sentenced to five years’ probation, a ten-year suspended prison sentence, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. The sentencing judge stated that the fact that Du had been robbed multiple times before affected her actions and mitigated her culpability.

The initial acquittal of these four police officers precipitated an epic conflagration.

The four police officers who beat Rodney King were subsequently tried and acquitted. Film director John Singleton was in the crowd outside the courthouse when the news was announced and stated, “By having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb.” His words were prescient.

The Riots

There resulted unfettered chaos.

The synergistic combination of Rodney King’s vicious videotaped beating, the acquittal of the officers involved, and Soon Ja Du’s mild sentence in the killing of Latasha Harlins precipitated a hurricane of violence. Riots began the day after the verdict was announced. Soon much of LA was in flames.

During the 1992 riots, much of LA burned. Note that these white people are also taking advantage of the opportunity to loot local businesses.

64 people died in the violence, and another 2,383 were injured. 3,600 fires were set and 1,100 buildings were immolated. Fire calls came into dispatchers at a rate of one per minute for a time. First responders were utterly overwhelmed.

More than 9,000 National Guard troops were deployed.

The government invoked a dusk-to-dawn curfew and mobilized the California National Guard along with Federal Law Enforcement and some active-duty military personnel. The violence continued for six days. Property damage ultimately ran between $800 million and $1 billion.

Soldiers and Marines make lousy cops.

One extraordinary episode demonstrated why military troops should never be used in Law Enforcement roles. When responding to a domestic violence incident a combined force of LAPD officers and US Marines closed on a Compton home. A violent criminal was holding his family hostage inside. Upon their approach, the suspect fired two shotgun rounds through the front door, injuring a police officer. One of the LAPD cops then shouted, “Cover me!”

In stressful circumstances training kicks in.

In keeping with their training, the Marines immediately laid down a withering base of fire to cover the cop’s maneuver. In a matter of moments, they had saturated the house with some 200 rounds. Miraculously the inhabitants were unharmed. A bit shocked, I rather suspect, but nonetheless unhurt.

Rooftop Koreans

The stage for the 1992 LA riots had been set over years.

In general, Koreans were the local shop owners, while African-Americans were their customers. There was a low-grade antipathy percolating between these two ethnic groups that boiled over after the Harlins incident. As a result, rioters targeted Korean-owned businesses for destruction. Police were so overwhelmed as to be unable to respond to calls for help. Countless established family businesses were burned to the ground.

The armed Koreans who defended their businesses during the riots were typically either revered or reviled depending upon the particular political bent of the commentators.

The businesses that survived were those that were adequately defended. In a violent, chaotic, lawless world, some Koreans armed themselves, retreated to their rooftops, and prepared to shoot looters. The resulting iconography created a modern legend among responsible armed Americans. The controversy surrounding those people, their actions, and those images roils even today.

The Guns

Guns were easier to obtain by law-abiding citizens in California back in the 1990s.

I studied all the pictures I could find to see what sorts of weapons these armed Americans were using. In 1991 California gun control laws were not quite so draconian as is the case today. For the most part, these armed Koreans wielded fairly mundane ordnance.

These guys are packing typical combat handguns of the era.

Standard-capacity combat handguns like Beretta 92’s, Glock 17’s, and sundry Smith and Wesson pistols were in evidence. There were numerous bolt-action hunting rifles along with sporting shotguns of various flavors. I spotted a couple of Mini-14 rifles and an AK. The most intriguing weapon I could find was a Daewoo Precision Industries K2.

The Daewoo K2 is an under-appreciated service rifle on this side of the pond. A reliable piston-driven design, the K2 only weighs 7.2 pounds empty.

The K2 is currently the standard service rifle of the South Korean military. Development began in 1972 and spanned a variety of prototypes in two different calibers. The definitive 5.56mm version was first fielded in 1985.

This cheerful-looking guy was rocking a Daewoo K2 during the LA riots.

The resulting weapon reflected the state of the art. A gas piston-driven design based upon the proven Kalashnikov action, the K2 fed from STANAG magazines and featured a 1-in-7.3 inch, 6-groove barrel. GI weapons included safe, semi, 3-round burst, and full auto functions. Small numbers of semiauto variants were briefly imported by Kimber, Stoeger, and B-West in the 1980s. The 1989 import ban via executive order by Bush the First capped the numbers in the country and rendered the gun an instant collector’s item. From what I have seen at least one of these superlative weapons made its way onto the rooftops of these Korean-owned businesses during the LA riots.

The Rest of the Story

Rodney King’s life met a tragic untimely end. When he died he was in a romantic relationship with one of the jurors from his civil trial.

Rodney King was ultimately awarded a $3.8 million civil judgment and became fairly wealthy as a result. He bought a house for his mother as well as another for himself with the proceeds. Tragically, King never mastered his sobriety. In 2012 he fell into his swimming pool and drowned. He had cocaine, marijuana, PCP, and alcohol in his system at the time. He was 47.

Apparently, the four cops involved just wanted to disappear.

Two of the four cops involved in the beating were eventually convicted of violating King’s civil rights and spent 30 months in federal prison. All four left Law Enforcement. None of them remained in California.

Reginald Denny’s skull was fractured in a total of 91 places. His left eye was pushed into his sinus cavity.

Reginald Denny, a passing white truck driver, was dragged from his vehicle by an angry mob and brutally beaten. One rioter struck him in the back of the head with a cinder block, severely fracturing his skull. After extensive surgery and therapy, Denny eventually regained the capacity to walk. I guess that’s something.


Little was safe during the riots. This entire apartment complex was gutted.

Today the uprising is referred to as “Sa-i-gu” within the LA Korean community. This translates as “April 29,” the day the violence began. During those six horrible days, multiple warning shots were fired, but no rioters were injured or killed by the rooftop Koreans. Like all parasitic scavengers, the rioters gravitated toward the areas with the easiest pickings. Businesses bristling with armed Koreans were essentially left alone.

Not all the rioters were black, and not all of the responsible citizens were Korean. This pale-faced guy scored a new sofa.

Modern commentary on the phenomenon of the rooftop Koreans is delightfully biased. Left-wing commentators state that the willingness of these shop owners to arm themselves in defense of their businesses was pure unfettered racism. They further assert that those of us who venerate this behavior are knuckle-dragging neanderthals awash in toxic masculinity and driven by insensate, race-based venom. I must respectfully disagree.

This looks like a fun girl day at the local mall.

Speaking solely for myself, of course, I don’t care one whit what color the people were who were defending their businesses or burning them down. I tend to judge others based on their civic-mindedness and propensity toward responsible behavior. Regardless of ethnicity, I categorize those who burned down their neighborhoods as the Bad Guys and those who prevented them from doing so as the Good Guys. Failure to appreciate that obvious truth seems fairly incomprehensible to me.

Regardless of the hue of their skin, these miscreants are not the heroes in this tragic tale.

There is but a thin veneer of civility that separates human animals from the lesser sort. We never seem to be more than one headline away from violence and carnage. To those who might defend the actions of the rioters, you’re all idiots. Feel free to venerate the criminals if that be your wish, but don’t act surprised when the rest of us find solace in our firearms and sense of community.

The guy busy trashing his neighborhood here is dressed like an off-duty stockbroker. Presuming rioting to be intrinsically racially segregated is itself innately racist.

I don’t minimize the egregious nature of the Rodney King and Latasha Harlin’s tragedies. However, they both had their origins in deep societal brokenness. Until we can repair the basic family structure in these derelict communities nothing will ever get better. Guns, poverty, drugs, and violence are simply symptoms. Dysfunctional families, a dearth of responsible fathers, and a lack of positive role models is the underlying disease. It remains to be seen if anyone has the moral fortitude to stop screaming about the symptoms and conjure an effective cure.

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