Reporter/trans activist Zoey Tur was there in 1992 when riots broke in in South Central Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King. The violence then spread throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area as thousands of people rioted over a six-day period.
It was Zoey in the helicopter who captured the footage of Reginald Denny, the white truck driver who stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, and was dragged from his semi-trailer truck and severely beaten by a mob of local residents.
I called Zoey today, on the 25th anniversary of the riots, to talk about her memories of those emotionally charged days.
JSJ: Tell me what you remember about the day of the riots. What was the mood of the city?:
ZOEY TUR: “The day of the Los Angeles Riots was scary, there was so much tension. Right after the not guilty verdict, I turned to (my then-wife) Marika and said ‘Let the riots begin!’ I knew it would happen. One of my news directors from the TV station called me up and said ‘Go fly and tell everyone how peaceful the city is.’ As I was reporting, I saw that it wasn’t. I believed I would be arrested as soon as I landed, because what we learned was is that the LAPD Top Commanders had left the city to burn.“
How was it you managed to be in the right place at the right time to film Reginald Denny being pulled from his car and beaten by the mob?:
“We had done research. We didn’t think that the officers would be convicted after the trial was moved to Simi Valley. Simi Valley is whiter than Mammoth Lake during winter. So, there was no way that I believed they’d be convicted. So, I believed the aftermath of a decision like that would be a riot. I talked to mothers, fathers, gang members, anyone who would talk to me in South Los Angeles. I asked them what they thought would happen, they all said riots. One police officer told me that the rioting would begin at a liquor store. Tom’s Liquor Store was in the heart of gang invested areas in South Los Angeles. That’s where it began and that’s where we were.”
I’ve read that your helicopter was shot at. In that moment, were you terrified or were you in pure journalistic mode?:
“I was in journalistic mode and on adrenaline flying through that war zone. I was so concentrated on the mission and doing my best to avoid gunfire- but that was impossible. During the flight, I turned to the crew and said ‘If we go down for any reason, you need to find shelter and barricade yourself inside until help comes.’ We were armed, we brought weapons with us, because we were going to a riot. We were very concerned about our own safety as well.”
Were you scared for the city? Looking at the footage now it seems so apocalyptic. Did you think this was the new normal, that things would never go back to the way they were?:
“I thought the rioting would only last three days. I compared it to a wild fire. Everything seems to go in three day cycles. After three days, the weather changes and the fire dies down. But while the wind is blowing, the fire rages on. It was the same case with the riots. But, after three days, people got tired. They came to their senses and looked around. They saw the magnitude of what happened. Then the healing had to begin. The LA Riots were as necessary as rain. They helped burn away the disease that was holding South Central down. All of it was burned and cleared away. The riots led to renewed growth. The LAPD had serious problems. There have been serious changes. Back in 1992, around 23% of African Americans believed that they were getting a fair share or race relations were acceptable. Today, it’s around 73%. Sadly, what we’ve learned in Los Angeles has been lost on the rest of the country.”
Are Things Better Now?:
“Los Angeles is better now [regarding race relations]. But, not the rest of the country. But, that could change overnight if there is another case like Rodney King. Back in 1992 you couldn’t go to a restaurant in South Los Angeles because there was no neighborhood, there were no community. Now, there is money in South Los Angeles. They now have representation in government, there’s influence. But, now with Donald Trump in the White House, we are seeing racism in the United States. He is a serious threat to the United States, more than ISIS – that’s what I believe.”
“I’m very positive about California, but then again, the rest of the country, you have to realize that just under 50% of the population are very racist. They voted for their racism. That’s why the polls were never accurate because no one wanted to admit their racism. Before the election, I said they would go into the voting booth and say ‘Fuck Transgender bathrooms, Fuck Black Lives Matter, Fuck those Mexicans! I want mine!’. And that’s exactly what they did. And don’t think gay marriage didn’t have anything to do with it! That was the last gasp of the white, heterosexual male.”
It may be their last gasp, but they can do an awful lot of damage before they’re done…
We’re seeing that now, huh?
Yes. well, that’s another talk for another day, lol. Thanks for talking to us today, Zoey. Amazing stories. Hope to see you soon!
LA Stories: From the Eye of the Storm: In the aftermath of the LA riots, World of Wonder gave cameras to ten Los Angelinos (gang leaders, cops, teachers, TV reporters) to make video diaries about their lives. These stories were interwoven into a feature film revealing what life in LA is like from the inside out.
Below, the interview with helicopter reporter Zoey Tur (seen here before she transitioned)…
And watch LA Stories: From the Eye of the Storm in its entirety, below.