I based this “Eyes on the King Verdict” print on photos taken by Ted Soqui during the LA riots of spring 1992. Ted has a long history of photographing activists and protests, which began after the “not guilty” verdicts on April 29, 1992, for the four officers who severely beat Rodney King. I especially love the central pic of a young woman protester in a Malcolm X hat contemplating the scene. I think it is important to consider the symbolic weight of the Rodney King verdict and the emotional impact on communities of color seeking justice and accountability. At the time, 30 years ago, I remember feeling enraged that such a blatant act of police brutality was going unpunished when it was captured on video. It is heartbreaking how frequently similar acts of violence and abuse of power by law enforcement have gone unpunished, even when caught on camera. I don’t ever condone violence or looting, but I understand why LA erupted in riots and protests after the King verdict. When people feel that the American system has failed them repeatedly, things can reach a boiling point. The urge to protest injustice and the right to do so are legitimate, even if looting is not legitimate. The LA riots were a tragic mixture. However, beware of those who try to conflate protest with “criminal agitation” or “inciting a riot.” When the system fails the people, it is nothing short of patriotic for the people to protest for a solution. Ted Soqui and I both signed the “Eyes on the King Verdict” print. A portion of the proceeds will benefit WLCAC (Watts Labor Community Action Committee). Edition of 600. $70.
Eyes on the King Verdict From Ted Soqui:
I photographed the images for the “Eyes on the King Verdict” piece thirty years ago while working as a freelance photojournalist for the LA Weekly and now-defunct Impact Visuals photo agency.
Photographing protests was fast becoming my specialty.
LAPD officers brutally beat Rodney King on March 3, 1991. 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean shop owner in South Central LA on March 16, 1991. The shop owner, Soon Ja Du, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and did not receive prison time. Intense protest and change formed in the communities of South Central.
For me, the long rebellion had already begun and would last a while.
I spent some time covering the trial of the four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King. The trial was moved from downtown LA to a courthouse in Simi Valley, unheard of even to this day. Simi Valley is a “cop town” where many white police officers and firefighters live.
Four not-guilty verdicts for the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King came in on April 29, 1992. No one expected complete exonerations for the brutal beating of King, which the world watched for almost a year. Walking away from the courthouse, I ran into film director John Singleton. He looked in total disbelief over the verdicts. We all were.
I heard reports of rock and bottle-throwing on the corner of Florence and Normandie. I knew it was an intense place on a regular day, so I avoided heading there.
Instead, I drove to LAPD headquarters, Parker Center. A protest was forming and growing angrier by the minute. Police tried to chase away the protesters. They thought better of that and created a tight perimeter around Parker Center as the protesters took to the streets of downtown. The city began to burn.
I spent days photographing and avoiding becoming a victim for the next week. Photographers, many of them friends, and reporters were getting robbed and beaten. I hid my camera in a paper bag and tucked in my press credentials.
It seemed as if the whole city was on fire. Large columns of dark black smoke rose all over the basin of LA. I would follow the smoke to find places to photograph. A dusk to dawn curfew along with National Guardsman came to the city. I would occasionally run into a war photographing roaming the streets. After a week of intense mayhem, the rebellion ended.
City officials were quick to sweep and clean up any damage. Promises of change and prosperity came and went, most of them went unfulfilled.
To this day, there are still empty lots from lost businesses. They often sit next to vacant lots from the 65 Watts rebellion.
I remember someone saying that a rebellion will probably happen again sometime in our future. I wasn’t sure how to take that in, but almost 30 years later, I’m on the streets again covering intense protesting and rioting for the killing of George Floyd and many other unarmed black men by police.
I often remember the words of Rodney King, “can we all get along?” and pair them with the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Eyes On The King Verdict. 18 x 24 inches. Screen print on thick cream Speckletone paper. Original Illustration based on photograph by Ted Soqui. Signed by Ted Soqui and Shepard Fairey. Numbered edition of 600. $70. Proceeds go to Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC). Available on Friday, April 29 @ 10 AM PT at https://store.obeygiant.com. Max order: 1 per customer/household. International customers are responsible for import fees due upon delivery (Except UK). ALL SALES FINAL.
For further reading, please check out Ted Soqui’s article on Insider – “The LA Riots in Photos: Then and Now”