April 29, 2017
On that day, I was a cop, a LAPD police officer and I worked at the 77th Street Division which is the station responsible for the area that incorporates the now famous Florence and Normandie Avenues. Not only was I “on the job” with LAPD but I was a member of the 77th Street anti-gang unit called CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH).
In 1992, I had been on the job for a couple of years and prior to volunteering to transfer to 77th Street I had been assigned to Rampart Division. This other historic division is located just north of downtown off of the 101 Hollywood Freeway. In the 1990’s, 77th Street and Rampart were the 2 hottest, gun slingin’ divisions in the city and for a highly motivated young coper, those two divisions where the place to be.
Every night without fail and as soon as you cleared the station parking lot some unit was in pursuit of a Code-37 (Stolen) vehicle or there was a couple of ADW’s (Assault with a Deadly Weapon) – gun battles – occurring on the deadly streets and alleys of these two divisions. Handling a 187 (Murder) crime scene was almost a nightly occurrence for even patrol officers. In Rampart, 18th Street, MS-13, Rockwood and the other gangs slung dope on every corner and packed heaters. Every car stop or “ped” (pedestrian) stop had the potential of unraveling very quickly. Yoked out OG’s (Old gangsters, almost always parolees) were particularly deadly as they could spot weakness.
As a Coper in the City of Angels in the 90’s, you never wanted to show weakness.
Both Rampart and 77th had an annual murder rate above 200, respectively, and that was just for each division – not the whole city. To put those numbers in perspective – Rampart Division occupies a foot print of only 8 square miles.
To say that things were crazy and rockin’ & rollin’ doesn’t really due the experience justice. Violent gang members rolled deep and they were armed to the teeth. If you didn’t have your shit together – tactically – you were a liability to yourself and your partner and eventually you found yourself transferred out to The Valley.
While at Rampart, I had been assigned to a violent street predator team and we hunted down some very bad dudes. It was great experience for a young officer and I was “all in”. Working in a specialized unit was right where I wanted to be and having the opportunity to chase bad guys night after night while wearing that “white hat” was like a dream come true.
I grew up in small town America with all the fundamental principles and beliefs commonly associated with that. Namely, distinct lines of right and wrong and the guy with the “white hat” always saves the day and always wins. I was (still am) a believer in “The Duke”, John Wayne. Not the man or the actor per se, but what his character image portrayed. I believe in the guy with the white hat, sitting tall in the saddle, and upholding justice.
For me, I was a police officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, the most recognized department in the world, an icon of policing and special operations. I was riding high in the saddle with a Winchester on my hip and wearing the white cowboy hat of justice as I rode into town. Life couldn’t get much better than this, I thought.
I transferred to 77th Street and because I had done some work on the Rampart special units I was being “looked at” for an assignment to CRASH. I welcomed the “by invitation only” assignment and when it finally came I was good to go! I eventually teamed up with Andy Hudlett (now an icon of his own in LAPD SWAT), Terry Keenan, and Brian Liddy – probably the best street cop I have ever known.
CRASH units supposedly don’t exist anymore – the PC culture being alive and well even in LAPD. But when they did, they were great units to be part of. Being a team member of a unit consisting of twenty highly motivated officers led by 2 sergeants and given the unrivaled job of tracking, chasing and arresting violent gangsters was the epitome of police work. Unit camaraderie and a sense of belonging permeated the unit. Those attributes along with excellent police skills, tactical abilities and a cool head under fire was all that was needed to make the next step up from CRASH into Metro Division, the home of SWAT. Life in a CRASH unit, back then, was very similar to the famous movie “Colors”.
I don’t believe anyone could have anticipated the ’92 riots. However, I can tell you there where more than a few atmospherics that were prevalent in the communities leading up to that dreadful afternoon. From a police perspective, it seemed as though every call you and your partner went on, even the most minor issue such as a loud radio, turned into a melee of one sort or the other. People would come out of their homes and gather ‘round as police officers in South Central handled a radio call or conducted a car or ped stop. In today’s military term, atmospherics, we all felt the vibe of the community back then and the Operating Environment (OE) in early 1992 was rife with destabilizing factions.
Sociologists and others have studied the riots and, yes, I suppose the riots were a backlash against the police, LA itself, and the justice system as a whole for the outcome of the State trial that acquitted the accused officers in the Rodney King arrest. Without a doubt, life in South Central was not a piece of cake. It was a tough existence. But, as I witnessed with my own eyes, day after day, the community of South Central as a whole, despite all the Gangsta’ propaganda, was like most any other community. Good folks went to work every day, raised their kids, hoped for the best and gave life their best shot (no pun intended).
But the fact remained, that many of the disturbed youth in those communities simply saw no way out of the ‘hood. So they decided to first join a JV click and then finally got “jumped in” as full-fledged gang members. With not a lot to hold on to, other than their definition of respect and disrespect, they choose violence as a method to establish themselves as “something”. In the pursuit of that station in life they inflicted upon anyone in the community and certainly rival gangs members violence for any form of disrespect. Drive-by shootings was the tactic of choice that offered these wimps a quick method of escape.
The effect on the community with all this violence was that good decent families were forced to teach their young children to dive behind furniture at the sound of gun fire and obey the house rule of nobody was permitted to leave the house after dark.
With economic stresses and social issues hyped up and played upon by the neighborhood gangs tempers flared on that warm spring day near the end of April. Citizens were influenced by the gangs who spread the ideology of victimization and the reason for their lot in life was the fault and “doing” of the “system”.
I’m not a sociologist but I am sure some of the social issues played a big part and were heavy on the minds of folks back then. But in many respects, the 1992 LA Riots was simply a matter of opportunity.
We, the 77th Street CRASH Unit, had been tracking a lot of police intelligence that indicated that the gangs in South Central were at the heart of the discord and fueling flames of discontent that was embraced by many who lived in the area.
The gang at the center of the riots was undoubtedly the 8-Trey Gangster Crips (ETG). ETG, founded in the mid-70s, was and still is a notoriously violent and ruthless black gang in South Central. They were founded in the area of 83rd street in 77th Division and ultimately their ‘hood spanned 40 square blocks in all directions. ETG’s largest black gang rival was the Rollin’ 60s whose turf was along Crenshaw Blvd on the west side of 77th. Of course, any Blood gang was an automatic enemy of not only ETG but all Crip gangs.
It was known at the time leading up to the riots that ETG had a long standing operational plan to capitalize on a civil unrest situation that they would help usher in. That plan involved breaking into the Western Gun Store located in South Central during a chaotic event and subsequently seizing all the weapons contained therein.
All ETG needed to carry out this plan was a “chaotic event”.
That “event” was ushered in at 3:15 pm on April 29, 1992 when the verdicts of the 4 LAPD officers accused of wrongdoing in the Rodney King arrest were acquitted.
I was at the 77th Street station with the rest of the CRASH unit as we watched the verdicts come down that afternoon. Our supervisors, the famous Sgt. JJ May and Sgt. Nick Titiriga deployed the unit shortly thereafter with the orders to check out what was going on in the streets – to see what the atmospherics were like in the ‘hood.
Brian Liddy, Terry Keenan and I jumped in Brian’s unmarked blue detective unit and proceeded to patrol around the area of Florence and Normandie Avenues. We were driving Eastbound on 71st Street which is 1 block north of Florence Ave when we observed a large group of approximately 100 or so people amassed on the Southeast corner of 71st and Normandie Ave. As we neared the intersection a suspect by the name of Cerman Cunningham stepped out of the crowd and threw a large brick at our car, smashing in the front windshield.
We came to a halt, exited our car, and made a direct approach to arrest Cunningham. The fight was on and the crowd went crazy. As we left the scene with Cunningham and another rioter, Mark Jackson, all hell broke loose at Florence and Normandie. To my knowledge that was the first arrest of the L.A. Riots.
Damian “Football” Williams, Antoine Miller and another ETG gang member named Watson, all of whom lived in the immediate area, eventually made their way to the flash point intersection of Florence and Normandie. There, they and others harassed anyone and everyone that happened to be driving by, particularly anyone who was not an African American.
Reginald Denny, a white man and truck driver, who was minding his own business
driving his truck route, entered the intersection and was stopped by the crowd – simply because of his skin color. Wrong time – wrong place for Denny, indeed. Eventually, he was pulled from his truck and Football Williams and others attempted to kill him by kicking, punching and eventually caving in his skull with a fire extinguisher.
Note: A few weeks later, then Chief of Police, Daryl Gates (who to this day I believe was an awesome Chief) personally arrested Damian Williams for the attempted murder of Denny and I was there with him. I enjoyed watching the Chief place the handcuffs on Football and I thoroughly enjoyed transporting him I my police car to South Bureau Homicide.
Anyways, back to the chaos.
The 77th Street watch Commander that day was Lt. Mike Moulon. For unknown reason to me and most officers he gave an order for all police officers to leave the area of Florence and Normandie. Not a good order in my book for we had officers out there, like Dan Nee, who were actively engaged in rescuing victims of the insanity enveloping the city. Good copers were donning their White Hats, sitting high in the saddle and galloping into town.
I submit that was a wrong order given to the officers that day.
However, as the evening unfolded around 5:00 pm, someone else made a statement/order that was perhaps even more wrong – more irresponsible.
Then Mayor Tom Bradley made the following public statement:
Today, the jury told the world that what we all saw with our own eyes was not a crime. My friends, I am here to tell the jury…what we saw was a crime. No, we will not tolerate the savage beating of our citizens by a few renegade cops.
…We must not endanger the reforms we have achieved by resorting to mindless acts. We must not push back progress by striking back blindly.
— Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, post verdict press conference
That statement lit the torch that set off the worst riot in American history.
Yes, the ’92 riots were all about opportunity.
As the violence continued to sprawl across the city it found more and more victims. Numerous Hispanics and Asians were randomly victimized based solely on their skin color. Several of them were yanked from their cars as they accidently fell into the chaos, stripped naked and painted from head to toe and even down their throats with black spray paint, effectively turning them black as stated by the attackers.
The Korean owned liquor store on the North-East corner was targeted and eventually set on fire as was many of the surrounding businesses. Entire blocks in South Central and throughout the city were attacked, pilfered, and set on fire only afterwards. Economic opportunity prevailed and thousands of people capitalized on the unrest to loot businesses for their own economic gain, simple as that. On one occasion (of many) I witnessed a safe – no not a safe, that’s renders an image too small – a vault, an entire bank vault was being towed down Vermont Avenue via chains hitched to the rear bumper of a pick-up truck.
Now that was crazy.
I have many memories of the LA Riots of 1992, like being shot at by gangsters with AK47s and my partner, Brian Liddy, unsuccessfully being ambushed at the intersection of the 110 freeway off-ramp and Florence Ave by 3 gang members. Unfortunately, for those three dumb shits, they picked the worst cop to target for assassination that day. Without a doubt, a white man exiting the 110 freeway on any day following April 29th was no doubt a police officer and that is why Brian was selected. But that day didn’t end too well for those dirt bags. First they really should have practiced their marksmanship more and secondly, they had erroneously selected a tactical guru and very experienced gun fighter. The outcome of that rollin’ gun battle – Liddy: 3, Assholes: zero.
Liddy was eventually awarded the Medal of Valor for his efforts that day.
In the end, 1 billion dollars in economic damage to the city, 55 people killed, 2000 people were injured and 11,000 arrested.
So yes, the 1992 L.A. Riots have many perspectives and opinions.
The aforementioned perspective and opinion is mine.
(It is my blog site, by the way)
Author’s Note: I try to understand the many factors that played a hand in those tumultuous days. I try to see other perspectives and seek understanding for the many causal effects. But frankly, I don’t have any patience for anarchy, rioting, civil unrest and the destruction of my country.
This day of reflection bothers me, quite deeply. Not because of the past but because of the present and what I see in the not so distant future. Because, even though people were pissed off and perhaps some societal ills were exposed, I don’t necessarily believe that the people who engaged in the 1992 L.A. Riots were hell bent on destroying their own country. Sure they burnt the shit out of their community but it was contained.
Today, with this extremely violent Radical Left movement that is financed and supported by the Liberal Elite, the Progressives and the entire Democratic Party, and given a worldwide platform by the Liberal Media is hell bent on destroying this country – my country. The country I have wore numerous uniforms to defend and protect its citizens from harm – both militarily and in a law enforcement capacity.
The country my family lives in. Something I will defend at all costs.
What these ideological idiots don’t realize is that in pursuit of whatever they their fascist anarchist ideology is and their warped definition of “freedom” they are paving the way for a much harsher ideology. An ideology and worldwide movement that is waiting in the wings all the while patiently and strategically seeking the right opportunity to inflict its poisonous culture upon our great land.
These Left Wing Zealots who think they are seeking “freedom” are rapidly ushering a society totally void of any freedoms. The Muslim Brotherhood and CAIR are laughing as they watch the Left Wing radicals do their work for them – bringing the sheep to slaughter.
This cannot come to pass.
Wow Dave you are on a roll. That was a great read. I remember it all very well and how the violence of that day vibrated clear across the country and changed LE as we know it. It’s incredible to think that you were at ground zero of the riots. What a slice of history that I’m afraid we have not learned from and history will repeat itself.
Stay Safe, Craig
Sent from the iPhone of Craig Linzy
Dave, probably one of your best pieces you have written. I lived in the LA area during the Riot and OJ. It was shocking to see it all unfold on TV and new reports. You have to be about the most humble man I know. As I had never heard you brag or mention the events from that day. I would love to hear more of this event when you get back to States.
You are the man!
Quite the life you have had!
Dave, I have worked with you for years and have known you for more. Your reflections of this day were not easy but necessary and truthful. I appreciate all the time that you keep me and other officers up-to-date with historical knowledge. In this situation you were there providing a view totally different than the media. Keep doing what your doing. Best to you.
Ret. Lt. VBPD
Thank you Mike! Hope to see you soon young man!
Dave thanks for the reflection from a cop who was at ground zero. I was a gang cop in Phoenix during those riots and we encouraged our leadership to let us deploy to LA and support our brothers in blue..however strong our voices were they were ignored and we were told to stop asking..
On another note the TTP’s used by the LA PD CRASH units were very effective and it was evident that the gangsters were well educated. Routinely we would encounter LA gang members here in Phoenix who were on the run from the 3 strike law enacted in CA. The obvious sign that they were from LA was how they reacted when we rolled up on them in the hood. Many would raise there hands high in the air and drop to there knees and then interlock there fingers behind there heads without being instructed to by us. Many had stories about what would happen if they did not follow orders by the CRASH detectives during a street encounter.
Dave welcome back to the US and thank you for your service both on the streets here in the US and abroad…