'LA 92' Documentary Explores the Raw Complexity of the Explosive Los Angeles Riots

A car burns as looters take to the streets at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, April 29, 1992, This intersection is considered the flashpoint of the Los Angeles riots. (Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage)

'LA 92' Documentary Explores the Raw Complexity of the Explosive Los Angeles Riots

The 1992 event was a microcosm of racial injustice in the country.

Published April 28, 2017

Throughout the timeline of America, we’ve seen history repeat itself in ways that can dishearten and frustrate those who believe in progress and change. Twenty-five years ago, the nation watched as the city of Los Angeles was plagued by fires, passionate violence and broken glass during the LA Riots of 1992.

For the Black community, riots have often been a symptom of an aggregate of injustice and oppression. The LA Riots were a microcosm of the larger racial inequalities at play in the nation, specifically surrounding the justice system and the community.

As the 25th anniversary of these riots approach, filmmakers and writers have created pieces to tell the story through their lens. One film, however, chooses to forgo the commentary which often accompanies documentaries and instead use only raw footage. That film is LA 92 and BET had a chance to sit down and speak with its directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin.

  1. For the filmmaking duo, it was an artistic and intellectual choice to present the riots in the exact way the nation watched them unfold.

    “We didn’t want the audience to be talked to,” Lindsay said of the decision to exclusively use raw footage. “We didn’t want to present the issues in a way where they can be analyzed and rationalized.”

    Lindsay — who is White — understands that, although he may not have a direct experience with racial injustice, his ability to empathize with the passion behind those who took part in the riots helped him to create this piece.

    Where the film succeeds most is its succinct portrayal of the many events leading up to the riots. Yes, the brutal beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the officers responsible acted as a major catalyst for the riots. However, in LA’s history, there were many instances of injustice toward the Black community which also fueled the fire behind the riots.

    “We’re containing all this raw material in a confined space, so you are making these connections,” Martin — who is biracial — said of the unraveling of events leading up to the riots.

    If you were to remove the timestamp from LA 92, the riots could have been from any city in 2016 that experienced a police shooting in a Black community with a lack of accountability by the department. 

  2. These images may not appear new; however, the conversation surrounding these events is constantly evolving. Now, we see an influx of people from different backgrounds standing behind the Black community and its effort to fight to end police brutality.

    “You cannot control how people perceive being woke,” Martin told BET. “There will always be a large group who are commodifying it, and wearing it for the day. That does not mean that you stop trying to have the conversation.”

    LA 92 appropriately represents the incongruent thought process that often accompanies racial inequality and its effects.

    “On one hand, I empathize with the anger of the people in the riots, but then when you see the violence that occurred, there’s a cognitive dissonance. That’s not what we want,” Lindsay said of his personal feelings in relation to the riots. 

  3. Cognitive dissonance is the perfect phrase to represent LA 92 and the systematic injustice we currently see in this country. Racism and its effects often force people to scrutinize human rights through a lens determined by their specific side of the political aisle. In cases of police brutality, the past history of the victim is frequently brought up and/or shamed as a method to justify the pain inflicted on them. However, these practices are often carried out by the same people who proudly tout the "All Lives Matter" slogan.

    The dissonance in the Black community occurs when the fight to end oppression and injustice results in riots which damage the same disenfranchised community, whether it be in LA, Ferguson or Baltimore. 

    There is no one way to investigate and fix racial injustice in America. Hundreds of years of slavery, racist policies and government inflicted oppression have left lasting effects on the Black community.

    However, films such as LA 92 remind us that oppression does not go unnoticed or unpunished. Conversations regarding police brutality and social justice reform must continue happening if we hope to prevent future riots from impacting the generations to come.

    LA 92 premieres on National Geographic this Sunday, April 30 at 9/8C. 

Written by Rachel Herron

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

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