I remember April 29, 1992 very vividly. I was a second-year student at Fuller Theological Seminary. During a break in a two-hour course, I descended from the third floor of Peyton Hall to check my student mailbox on the ground floor. There, the mail guy was listening to the radio. He told me that the cops who beat Rodney King had been acquitted, and he told me to go somewhere safe. It was about 3:30pm.
I took his advice and left campus for the Bresee House, a residence that I shared with four other Fuller students in north Pasadena. There we watch, in horror, as the riots began just a few miles from us. The entire riot was broadcast live from news helicopters. I will never forget watching live as Reginald Denny was dragged from his truck and beaten with a brick.
We watched live footage of this for hours and hours. At one point, some friends called. They were eating at a restaurant in the Old Town section of Pasadena when a car drove down Colorado Avenue shooting out the window. They’d been moved by the restaurant staff to a back room, and they asked us to come and get them. We declined and told them what we were seeing on TV. Eventually, they left the restaurant and ran back to campus.We did not leave our house the entire next day. We didn’t even step outside. We simply watched TV in silence, all five of us.
On Friday, May 1, we decided it was at least safe enough to play basketball on our driveway, behind the house. While we were out there, I noticed something falling from the sky — it was ash. So many things were on fire in LA, including a strip mall about half-a-mile from our house, that big flakes of black ash fell on and around us.
To be a 24-year-old in LA during the riots was both surreal and horrifying, both real and hyperreal. It is an experience that marked me.