Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots

Season 6: Episode 1

The Tape

In 1991, a 68-second video set off a chain of events that would change LA forever.

Advertisement

Episode Notes

On the night of March 2, 1991, at a remote intersection just outside of L.A., four police officers surrounded an unarmed Black man. They struck him 56 times with their batons before arresting him.

Across the street, standing on his second-floor balcony, a bystander named George Holliday recorded the scene on his home video camera.

This is what happened after the camera stopped rolling.

Season 6 of Slow Burn is produced by Joel Anderson, Jayson De Leon, Ethan Brooks, Sophie Summergrad, and Jasmine Ellis.

Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Sources for This Episode:

Books: 

Cannon, Lou. Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD, Random House, 1997.

King, Rodney with Lawrence  J. Spagnola. The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, HarperOne, 2012.

Articles: 

Abramovitch, Seth. “Flashback: How a Plumber Altered History by Taping the Attack on Rodney King,” the Hollywood Reporter, March 3, 2021.

Berger, Leslie and Tracy Wood. “L.A. Officers Indicted in Beating,” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1991.

Goldstein, Michael. “The Other Beating,” Los Angeles Times Magazine, Feb. 19, 2006.

Hastings, Deborah. “Without Videotape, TV Officials Say Beating Would Not Have Stood Out,” Associated Press, March 6, 1991.

Mydans, Seth. “Friend Relives Night of Police Beating,” New York Times, March 21, 1991.

Risen, Clay. “George Holliday, Who Taped Police Beating of Rodney King, Dies at 61,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 2021.

Serrano, Richard A. “3 in King Beating Say They Feared for Lives,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1991.

Serrano, Richard A. “Police Documents Disclose Beating Was Downplayed,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1991.

Tobar, Hector and Leslie Berger. “Tape of L.A. Police Beating Suspect Stirs Public Furor,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1991.

Wood, Tracy and Faye Fiore. “Beating Victim Says He Obeyed Police,” Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1991.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

The Man Behind the Camera

More from Slow Burn’s interview with George Holliday, who captured Rodney King’s 1991 beating on tape.

Advertisement

About the Show

In 1992, a jury failed to convict the four Los Angeles police officers who’d been captured on videotape beating Rodney King. The city erupted into fire and chaos—the culmination of decades of unchecked police abuse and racial injustice.

For the sixth season of Slate’s Slow Burn, Joel Anderson returns to explore the people and events behind the biggest civil disturbance in American history—a story that’s still playing out today.

All episodes

Host

  • Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Seasons 3 and 6 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.

Follow