I resisted the urge to write about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots during their anniversary earlier this spring, because I feared that anything I produced would smack of extreme navel-gazing. But I do feel compelled to mark the untimely passing of Rodney King, for there’s no doubt that his ordeal and the drama it produced was one of the cornerstone experiences of my Angeleno adolescence. I was a high-school student when the city exploded on April 29, 1992—I first heard about the violence from a baseball teammate, who boarded our bus after a tough loss and yelled, “The city’s on fire!” None of us believed him; it wasn’t until I got back home and heard an obviously shaken KLOS DJ appeal for peace that I realized something truly dreadful was happening.
The riots opened my eyes to the fact that Los Angeles was a far more complex place than my teenage brain had ever imagined. And that revelation led to some choices that ultimately made me a more curious and empathetic person—skills that have served me well in my chosen vocation.
I remember watching King’s speech above on our living-room TV. To this day, I don’t know how he maintained the composure necessary to speak with such clarity and eloquence. It was a single momentous achievement in a life that was otherwise marred by demons and disappointments. But it is a finer legacy than most men will ever leave behind.