Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots

Season 6: Episode 3

The Chief

In the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the city wanted Daryl Gates out. Gates had other plans.


Episode Notes

In 1991, Daryl Gates was the face of the LAPD. Over the course of his 13-year tenure as chief, he had built his police department into a paramilitary-style force that enforced the racial boundaries of the city.

Rodney King’s beating had exposed the brutality of Gates’ police force to the city. In the weeks after the video aired, L.A.’s most powerful institutions joined together to call for an end to Gates’ career and the style of policing that had resulted in King’s beating.

But even with much of the city’s political leadership unified against him, Gates was ready for a fight.

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:


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

Christopher, Warren. Chances of a Lifetime, Scribner, 2001.

Domanick, Joe. Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Domanick, Joe. To Protect and To Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams, Pocket Books, 1994.

Gates, Daryl F. with Diane K. Shah. Chief: My Life in the LAPD, Bantam Books, 1992.


Dawsey, Darrell. “25 Years After the Watts Riots; McCone Commission’s Recommendations Have Gone Unheeded,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1990.

Domanick, Joe. “Daryl Gates’ Downfall,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2010.

For Chief Daryl Gates, the Moment Has Come,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1991.

Hastings, Deborah. “​​L.A. Mayor Says He’s Powerless to Fire Police Chief,” Associated Press, March 28, 1991.

Jerkins, Morgan. “She Played a Key Role in the Police Response to the Watts Riots. The Memory Still Haunts Her—But Black History Is Full of Haunting Memories,” Time, Aug. 3, 2020.

Mathews, Jay. “Bradley Appoints Panel to Probe L.A. Police Dept.,” Washington Post, April 2, 1991.

Mathews, Jay. “L.A. Police Chief Commands Respect, Fear from Overseers,” Washington Post, March 25, 1991.

Mathews, Jay. “Longtime Deputy to Gates Criticizes Police Chief’s Leadership in Testimony,” Washington Post, July 12, 1991.

Mydan, Seth. “Pressure Grows Over Police Beating,” New York Times, March 20, 1991.

Reinhold, Robert. “Man in the News; Pathfinders of the Middle Ground: Warren Minor Christopher,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1992.

Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, July 9, 1991.

Rohrlich, Ted. “The Times Poll: Majority Says Brutality by L.A. Police is Commonplace,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1991.

Tobar, Hector and Rich Connell. “Gates Defends Police at Fiery Council Meeting,” Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1991.

Tobar, Hector and Richard Serrano. “L.A. Mayor Asks Police Chief to Quit,” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1991.

Tobar, Hector and Sheryl Stolberg. “Gates Wants 3 Officers Prosecuted in Beating,” Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1991.

Wilkinson, Tracy, Andrea Ford, and Tracy Wood. “Panel Urges Gates to Retire,” Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1991.

Zirin, Dave. “Want to Understand the 1992 LA Riots? Start with the 1984 LA Olympics,” the Nation, April 30, 2012.


Audio from the Christopher Commission hearings is ​​courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Libraries Special Collections.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Daryl Gates’ L.A.

More on the police chief’s influence on the LAPD and its racist, violent policies in the early 1990s, and his clash with L.A. mayor Tom Bradley.


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.

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  • 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.