Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD

Lou Cannon, Author
Lou Cannon, Author Crown Publishers $35 (698p) ISBN 978-0-8129-2190-8
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The 1991 videotape of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King horrified television viewers worldwide, just as another videotape of black rioters beating a white trucker did a year later. Washington Post correspondent Cannon (President Reagan) uses these images to move readers through events leading up to the deadliest race riot since the Civil War, and through the maze of promises and good intentions that have led to so few changes. Few viewers realized that the King videotape had been edited by a television station to remove shaky footage of an enraged King charging police officers. But by the time those 10 blurry seconds had been reinstated, it had little impact on an angry nation. Cannon recounts the fateful decision to hold the officers' trial in a mostly white suburb, the refusal of the LAPD's high command to prepare for trouble after the verdicts, and the following days of flame and gunfire that cost 54 lives and did change Los Angeles forever, although not in the expected ways. It's what remains the same in the city that is most shocking. When police chief Willie Williams arrived from Philadelphia following the riots, he was shocked by the broken-down police cars, a faulty communications system and an absurdly understaffed office. Not much has changed, and Williams has now left. Promised aid and jobs for South-Central came to naught when the city was hit by the worst recession since the Depression and lost 300,000 jobs in 1991 and 1992. And the race card has been played in one high-profile trial after another, furthering racial distrust. Official Negligence is the best kind of reportage--meticulous, unbiased and complete. (Feb.)
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