Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

by Anna Deavere Smith

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In the conventional sense, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 has no plot or story line at all. The work consists of a series of monologues, the words of real persons interpreted by Smith in her dual role as playwright-performer. The monologues are edited redactions made up from interviews that Smith conducted in the aftermath of the events that seriously divided the Los Angeles community in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating on the night of March 3, 1991.

The playwright, to remind both her audiences and her readers of the issues, provides a "Time Line" in production playbills and the published work. The Time Line is a chronological outline of the important events referenced by the various voices in the play. It is that which provides the "story." The major occurrences from that Time Line are summarized below.

1991: March 3-15 On March 3, after stopping King for speeding, members of the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) severely beat and arrest him. George Holiday, a nearby resident, captures the episode on video tape and distributes it to television networks, which repeatedly show it in broadcast news. Three days later, LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates calls the King beating an "aberration" as the community clamors for his resignation. King is released from custody, and on March 15, four LA policemen—Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno—are charged with a felony and arraigned for their part in the beating.

1991: March 15-26 On the night of March 15, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African-American girl, is shot to death by Korean-American Soon Ja Du in a South LA liquor outlet. On March 26, on the same day that the four officers charged in the King beating enter an innocent plea, Soon Ja Du is arraigned for murder.

1991: April 1-July 22 On April 1, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley empowers a special commission under Warren Christopher to investigate the LAPD. Three days later, the LA Police Commission places Gates on leave, but he is immediately reinstated by the City Council. On April 7, Gates takes disciplinary action against the four indicted officers, firing Wind and suspending the other three. The Christopher Commission releases its report on July 9, recommending that Gates and the whole Police Commission resign. On July 16, the Police Commission orders Gates to reinstate his assistant chief, David D. Dotson, whom Gates had forced to step down after Dotson complained of the chief's failures to discipline police officers. About a week later, Gates announces his intention of retiring in 1992.

1991: July 23-November 15 On July 23, the Second District Court of Appeal orders a change of trial venue for the four LAPD officers charged in the King case. Some two months later, the prosecution in the trial of Soon Ja Du begins presenting its case. On October 11, the court finds Soon guilty of involuntary manslaughter. A month later, on November 15, she is sentenced to five years' probation, four-hundred hours of community service and a $500 fine.

1991: November 26-29 Judge Stanley Weisberg names Simi Valley in Ventura County as the Rodney King trial venue. Three days later, on November 29, LAPD officers kill a black man, leading to a confrontation with about a hundred housing-project residents in the Watts area of LA.

1992: February 3-April 29 Pretrial motions precede the actual trial of the four LAPD officers in the Rodney King case, which begins with opening arguments on March 4, before a jury lacking a single African-American. Two weeks later the prosecution rests its arguments. On April 13, Briseno admits that...

(This entire section contains 1248 words.)

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King was never a threat to the arresting officers. Meanwhile, on April 16, Willie L. Williams is named as Gates's successor as police commissioner. On April 23, the King-trial jury begins its deliberations, returning a verdict on April 29. The officers are found innocent, except for one charge against Officer Powell for the excessive use of force. The verdict, which results in a mistrial, is widely publicized on television.

The feared reaction comes the same day. A peaceful protest rally of over two-thousand people at a South-Central LA church breaks into violence, spreading in a widening circle of shootings, beatings, and looting. Vandalism eventually leads to arson, engulfing a large section of central LA in fire. Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, is pulled from his cab and severely beaten in an episode caught on video tape and broadcast on television. LA Mayor Bradley declares a local emergency, and Governor Pete Wilson orders out the National Guard.

1992: April 30-May 11 On the next day, April 30, Bradley imposes a curfew for the whole of LA, but the looting and burning of stores continues in various sections of the city as the violent protest continues. Meanwhile, the Justice Department announces its intent to investigate further the possible violation of Rodney King's civil rights.

Beginning on May 1, the LA community tries to restore order. A peace rally draws over a thousand persons, mostly Korean- Americans. On May 2, city crews start the clean-up, while volunteers carry food and clothing into the devastated areas. Thirty thousand residents march in Koreatown, calling for an end to racial discord.

On May 3, the Los Angeles Times announces the toll paid by the community: 58 dead, almost 2,400 injured, over 12,000 arrested, 3,100 businesses damaged. By May 4, with National Guard troops patrolling the streets, LA citizens start back to work and school, but some cannot return because looted and vandalized businesses remain closed. LAPD officers begin rounding up illegal immigrants suspected of looting or other riot-related crimes. LA officials turn suspects over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation.

On May 8, the troops begin withdrawing from LA, while the Crips and Bloods, two major LA gangs to truce terms. Three days later, the LA Board of Police Commissioners names William H. Webster to chair a commission created to study the LAPD's response during the riots.

1992: May 12-December 14 On May 12, three of the "L A Four"—Damian Williams, Antoine Miller, and Henry Watson—are arrested for the April 29 beating of Reginald Denny. Gary Williams surrenders to the LAPD later on the same day. The L A Four are arraigned on May 21, charged with thirty-three violations for their attacks on thirteen motorists, including Denny. Meanwhile, various demonstrations continue. On May 25, Korean grocers meet with leaders of the Bloods and Crips to fashion an alliance. On May 30, Gates resigns at Chief of the LAPD and Willie Williams takes his place.

Over the summer and into December, protests continue, but violence is minimal. In October, the Webster Commission concludes that the LAPD's internal problems inhibited a quick response to the civil unrest. In the same month, the Black-Korean alliance breaks off, and on December 14, trouble erupts again when the Free the L A Four Defense Committee demonstrates at the site of the Denny beating.

1993: January 22-August 4 On January 23, ten charges against the L A Four are dismissed, but not the charge of attempted murder. Shortly thereafter, on February 3, the King civil rights trial of the four LAPD officers begins; it concludes two months later, on April 17. Briseno and Wind are acquitted. However, Powell and Koon are found guilty, and on August 4 are sentenced to a thirty-month term in federal prison.

1993: August 19-December 7 On August 19, the trial of the L A Four begins. It lasts about three months, although the final arguments begin early on, in late September. Jury problems force a verdict delay, as Judge Ouderkirk has to dismiss two jurors in early October. Convictions follow on October 18. Although acquitted of the more serious charges, on December 7, Damian Williams is sentenced to a maximum prison term of ten years for his attack on Denny.