Rioting erupts in Seattle following verdicts in Rodney King beating on May 1, 1992.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 3/06/2001
  • Essay 3054

On May 1, 1992, at approximately 1:00 a.m., rioting erupts in Seattle following the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers for the beating of Rodney King. The unrest continues the following night and is caused by "angry mobs of mostly white youths." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A total of 150 persons are arrested in the two nights of disturbances, which mirror, on a much smaller scale, rioting in Los Angeles.

In 1991, Rodney King, an African American, was arrested and beaten by four Los Angeles Police Officers. An amateur photographer caught the incident on videotape and the tape became the primary evidence for assault charges against the officers. Because of extensive pre-trial publicity, the trial was moved to the suburban community of Simi Valley. An all-white jury acquitted the officers on April 30, 1991.

Almost immediately, African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles exploded in violence that ultimately claimed 58 lives. More than 2,300 persons were injured, 227 critically. Property damage amounted to more than $750 million.

In Seattle, trouble started in the early morning of May 1 when 50 to 100 youths gathered at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street and began throwing rocks and overturning cars. They broke more than a dozen windows of businesses and looted one store.

The following night the violence increased when rioters, mostly young white men with some young African Americans, set fires, broke windows, and looted stores. Seattle fire fighters responded to five major blazes connected to the unrest. Most of the trouble occurred downtown with some disturbances on Capitol Hill near Seattle Community College. On both nights, self-proclaimed Anarchists from the University District were involved. Approximately 100 persons marched on the Seattle Police Department East Precinct at 8th Avenue and Virginia Street. Approximately 20 of the marchers began throwing rocks. Police drove the crowd up Capitol Hill.

One young man, identified as Khalif, proclaimed, "What we want is justice. When we kick down doors, windows ... it's for Rodney King" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

The violence eclipsed peaceful protests in colleges and high schools around Puget Sound.

The Los Angeles police officers were later indicted by a federal grand jury for civil rights violations. In 1993, two were convicted and two were acquitted.


"Seattle Disturbance," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 1, 1992, p. 1; "Violence Strikes Seattle," Ibid., May 2, 1992, p. B-1, B-2; "Seattle in the Calm After Storm," Ibid., May 4, 1992, p. A-6.

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