LA 92 Review

LA 92 is a documentary that grieves.  

In Act I it grieves for Rodney King, and marvels at the preposterous idea that a man can be beaten to such a degree, filmed on video and known to the world, and yet no justice is served. It presents the blatant injustice of a court system that would allow a Korean woman who shot a young black teen point blank in a convenience store, clearly on camera, to go free. It allows the anger for the disrespect of humanity to sink in. 

In Act II it grieves for the world, for humanity and the tendency that we all have to repay violence with violence, to let the anger spill out into violent acts, the continuation of the cycle, and the sense that our fragile sense of security loses out to chaos, which bubbles up from from our collective Id, our rationality and morality gone, as seething anger erupts in a collective expression of frustration and rage. 

LA 92 is a documentary comprised entirely of found footage, from news broadcasts in and around Los Angeles in 1992, surrounding the Rodney King trial and the subsequent LA Riots. The only commentary offered is the haunting musical score, that seems to highlight the absurdity of it all: the absurdity of the smug, white supporters of entitled cops in Simi Valley where the trial took place, blind to their privilege, and the absurdity of the mob mentality of violence and destruction following the verdict all over south Los Angeles, from arson, to looting, to indiscriminate beatings. 

In some kind of poetic irony, the chant from the rioters, “no peace, no justice” rings truer than ever, as they tip a flaming car onto its roof. 

Act III grieves for the aftermath, burnt buildings and bruised and battered bodies, attempts by politicians and citizens alike to make some sense of it all. From Congresswoman Maxine Waters trying to explain to the American people the sense of injustice and anger in her district, to presidential hopeful Bill Clinton trying to capitalize on the situation by offering platitudes, and finally the desperate attempt by business owners in South Central to somehow appeal to the reason of the mob: “black owned” scrawled in spray paint on windows or on the walls of stores that lie in the path of  arson and looting. A black man pleads with the crowds: “I’m tying to make it, can’t you all see that? I worked hard for this, why steal my computer? I came from the ghetto just like you.” Another woman pleads with a police officer, “Only watching! Only watching why don’t you do something! This is not fair! This is not fair!” 

Some of the looting sequences have a quiet absurdity about them: ordinary people, as if they are shopping on a Saturday afternoon, take part in the plunder, a kind of “Lord Of the Flies” in real life. As law and order breaks down, ordinary citizens begin to take matters into their own hands, as business owners in Korea Town patrol the roofs of their buildings with firearms. 

Once the situation devolves into a war zone, the National Guard is deployed to “restore law and order.”  When the thin red or blue line between chaos and order is broken, the innocent suffer, and those in positions of authority struggle for explanations. 

The final, moving sequence of the film inter-splices 1960’s, black and white footage of a news reporter describing the events of the Watts Riots with the events of 1992, suggesting that these cycles repeat, in shockingly similar ways. When the justice system is abused, when racism leads to the marginalization and victimization of the vulnerable, when dehumanization touches the population in large and small ways, civil unrest results, and leads to even more sorrow. 

LA 92 is hard to watch, but it is a must see for America today. We need to see the roots of these cycles, as perspective for the (very similar) events going on in our present day cities, and also as a reminder as to how quickly things can escalate, to the point where individuals have little to no control over our collective actions.