LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera


Year
1991
Month Day
March 03

At 12:45 a.m. on March 3, 1991, robbery parolee Rodney G. King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, California. The chase began after King, who was intoxicated, was caught speeding on a freeway by a California Highway Patrol cruiser but refused to pull over. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cruisers and a police helicopter joined the pursuit, and when King was finally stopped by Hansen Dam Park, several police cars descended on his white Hyundai.

A group of LAPD officers led by Sergeant Stacey Koon ordered King and the other two occupants of the car to exit the vehicle and lie flat on the ground. King’s two friends complied, but King himself was slower to respond, getting on his hands and knees rather than lying flat. Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Ted Briseno, and Roland Solano tried to force King down, but he resisted, and the officers stepped back and shot King twice with an electric stun gun known as a Taser, which fires darts carrying a charge of 50,000 volts.

At this moment, civilian George Holliday, standing on a balcony in an apartment complex across the street, focused the lens of his new video camera on the commotion unfolding by Hansen Dam Park. In the first few seconds of what would become a very famous 89-second video, King is seen rising after the Taser shots and running in the direction of Officer Powell. The officers alleged that King was charging Powell, while King himself later claimed that an officer told him, “We’re going to kill you, n*****. Run!” and he tried to flee. All the arresting officers were white, along with all but one of the other two dozen or so law enforcement officers present at the scene. With the roar of a helicopter above, very few commands or remarks are audible in the video.

With King running in his direction, Powell swung his baton, hitting him on the side of the head and knocking him to the ground. This action was captured by the video, but the next 10 seconds were blurry as Holliday shifted the camera. From the 18- to 30-second mark in the video, King attempted to rise, and Powell and Wind attacked him with a torrent of baton blows that prevented him from doing so. From the 35- to 51-second mark, Powell administered repeated baton blows to King’s lower body. At 55 seconds, Powell struck King on the chest, and King rolled over and lay prone. At that point, the officers stepped back and observed King for about 10 seconds. Powell began to reach for his handcuffs.

At 65 seconds on the video, Officer Briseno stepped roughly on King’s upper back or neck, and King’s body writhed in response. Two seconds later, Powell and Wind again began to strike King with a series of baton blows, and Wind kicked him in the neck six times until 86 seconds into the video. At about 89 seconds, King put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed.

Sergeant Koon never made an effort to stop the beating, and only one of the many officers present briefly intervened, raising his left arm in front of a baton-swinging colleague in the opening moments of the videotape, to no discernible effect. An ambulance was called, and King was taken to the hospital. Struck as many as 56 times with the batons, he suffered a fractured leg, multiple facial fractures, and numerous bruises and contusions. Unaware that the arrest was videotaped, the officers downplayed the level of violence used to arrest King and filed official reports in which they claimed he suffered only cuts and bruises “of a minor nature.”

George Holliday sold his video of the beating to the local television station, KTLA, which broadcast the footage and sold it to the national Cable News Network (CNN). The widely broadcast video caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality. Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Koon and officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. All four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer he was charged with aiding and abetting it. Powell and Koon were also charged with filing false reports.

Because of the uproar in Los Angeles surrounding the incident, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, was persuaded to move the trial outside Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury. The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, and arson, looting, murder and assaults in the city grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century. In three days of violence, more than 60 people were killed, more than 2,000 were injured, and nearly $1 billion in property was destroyed. On May 1, President George H.W. Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles to quell the riot.

Under federal law, the officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, and on April 17, 1993, a federal jury convicted Koon and Powell for violating King’s rights by their unreasonable use of force under color of law. Although Wind and Briseno were acquitted, most civil rights advocates considered the mixed verdict a victory. On August 4, Koon and Powell were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the beating of King. King received $3.8 million in a civil suit against the Los Angeles police department. On June 17, 2012, King died at his home in Rialto, California.

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The Persian Gulf War begins


Year
1991
Month Day
January 16

At midnight in Iraq, the United Nations deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires, and the Pentagon prepares to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor. 

At 4:30 p.m. EST, the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf on bombing missions over Iraq. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere. At 7:00 p.m., Operation Desert Storm, the code-name for the massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, was formally announced at the White House.

The operation was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, and encountered little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force or air defenses. Iraqi ground forces were helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel to enter the conflict, thus dissolving Arab support of the war. At the request of the United States, however, Israel remained out of the war.

On February 24, a massive coalition ground offensive began, and Iraq’s outdated and poorly supplied armed forces were rapidly overwhelmed. Kuwait was liberated in less than four days, and a majority of Iraq’s armed forces surrendered, retreated into Iraq, or were destroyed. On February 28, President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms. One hundred and twenty-five American soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War, with another 21 regarded as missing in action.

On March 20, 2003, a second war between Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition began, this time with the stated U.S. objective of removing Saddam Hussein from power and, ostensibly, finding and destroying the country’s weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was captured by a U.S. military unit on December 13, 2003 and was executed three years later. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. 

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Gulf War ground offensive begins


Year
1991
Month Day
February 24

After six weeks of intensive bombing against Iraq and its armed forces, U.S.-led coalition forces launch a ground invasion of Kuwait and Iraq.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, its tiny oil-rich neighbor, and within hours had occupied most strategic positions in the country. One week later, Operation Desert Shield, the American defense of Saudi Arabia, began as U.S. forces massed in the Persian Gulf. Three months later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if it failed to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.

At 4:30 p.m. EST on January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm, a massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, began as the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere.

Operation Desert Storm was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, encountering little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force. Iraqi ground forces were also helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel, and thus other Arab nations, to enter the conflict; however, at the request of the United States, Israel remained out of the war.

On February 24, a massive coalition ground offensive began, and Iraq’s outdated and poorly supplied armed forces were rapidly overwhelmed. By the end of the day, the Iraqi army had effectively folded, 10,000 of its troops were held as prisoners, and a U.S. air base had been established deep inside Iraq. After less than four days, Kuwait was liberated, and a majority of Iraq’s armed forces had either been destroyed or had surrendered or retreated to Iraq. On February 28, U.S. President George Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms. One hundred and twenty-five American soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War, with another 21 regarded as missing in action.

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Ethiopian capital falls to rebels, ending 17 years of Marxist rule

Year
1991
Month Day
May 28

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, falls to forces of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), formally ending 17 years of Marxist rule in the East African country.

In 1974, Haile Selassie, the leader of Ethiopia since 1930, was deposed in a military coup. Ethiopia’s new rulers set up a Marxist regime, executed thousands of their political opponents, and aligned themselves with the Soviet Union. War with Somalia and severe droughts during the 1980s brought famine to the Ethiopian people, leading to considerable internal strife and independence movements in the regions of Eritrea and Tigre.

In early 1991, the EPRDF, a Tigrean-led coalition of rebel organizations under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, began to achieve real successes and defeated the Ethiopian army, forcing military dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu to flee the country. On May 28, 1991, in the midst of cease-fire talks, EPRDF tanks entered Addis Ababa virtually unopposed. Soon after, a transition government was formed, with Meles Zenawi as its president. In July, a new democratic constitution was drafted, and Eritrean independence was acknowledged without incident.

READ MORE: Communism Timeline 

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Birmingham Six released from prison


Year
1991
Month Day
March 14

In the face of widespread questioning of their guilt, British authorities release the so-called “Birmingham Six,” six Irish men who had been sent to prison 16 years earlier for the 1974 terrorist bombings of two Birmingham, England, pubs.

On November 21, 1974, two Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombs exploded in two separate Birmingham pubs, killing 21 people and injuring hundreds. The bombing attacks were part of the ongoing conflict between the British government and the IRA over the status of Northern Ireland. Days after the Birmingham bombings, the British government outlawed the IRA in all the United Kingdom, and authorities rushed to arrest and convict the IRA members responsible. Six Irish suspects were arrested and sent to interrogation, where four of them signed confessions. The IRA, which claimed responsibility for the Birmingham bombings, declared that the six were not members of its organization.

During the subsequent trial, the defendants maintained their innocence, claiming that police had beaten the confessions out of them. Prosecutors denied this and also came up with forensic evidence that apparently proved that the Birmingham Six had handled explosives shortly before their arrest. They were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

In 1985, the forensic evidence was exposed by scientists as unreliable at best, and in 1987 an appeals judge conceded that the same results could be obtained from testing people who recently touched playing cards or cigarette paper. However, it was not until March 1991, with people across Britain and Ireland calling for their release, that the Birmingham Six were freed after years in prison. Seven years later, a British court of appeals formally overturned their sentences, citing serious doubts about the legitimacy of the police evidence and the treatment of the suspects during their interrogation.

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Nine killed in a stampede outside a hip-hop celebrity basketball game


Updated:
Original:
Year
1991
Month Day
December 28

 ”It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that young people attending a rap concert…who have paid as much as $20 a ticket, would not be very happy and easy to control if they were unable to gain admission to the event because it was oversold.” Those were the words of Judge Louis C. Benza of the New York State Court of Claims in sorting out the question of civil liability for one of the worst music-related tragedies in recent American history. Judge Benza’s 73-page decision, issued seven years after nine young people died in a crowd stampede on December 28, 1991, placed 50 percent of the blame for those deaths on the venue’s owner, the City University of New York, and 50 percent on the event’s promoters, rapper Dwight “Heavy D” Myers and the then largely unknown hip-hop impresario Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs.

Shortly after 6:00 p.m., according to eyewitness accounts, the crowd outside broke at least one of the glass doors separating them from the building lobby. Despite the presence of at least 66 New York City Police officers, 38 City College campus-security officers and 20 private security guards hired by the event’s promoters, the crowd was able to surge through those doors and rush into the building shortly after 7:00 p.m., when the event finally got underway. Once inside the lobby, the crowd rushed down a short set of stairs leading to the gymnasium. At the bottom of those stairs, however, were four swinging doors—three of them closed—that opened not into the gymnasium, but into the stairwell. While the 3,000-strong crowd surged forward obliviously, those people who reached the stairwell first were caught in a crush that would leave eight dead on the scene and 29 others injured, one of whom would later die of her injuries at St. Luke’s Hospital.

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Two trains crash in Japan, killing more than 40

Year
1991
Month Day
May 14

On May 14, 1991, two diesel trains carrying commuters crash head-on, killing more than 40 people and injuring 400 near Shigaraki, Japan. This was the worst rail disaster in Japan since a November 1963 Yokohama crash killed 160 people.

Shigaraki, a town near Kyoto, is famous for its ceramics. On May 14, the World Ceramics Festival was being held in the town. Passengers filled a train in Kibukawa, which was to run along a 14.7-kilometer single-track rail line away from Shigaraki, at just after 10 in the morning. However, workers on the Shigaraki Kogen Railways (SKR) line could not get a green signal in order for the train to depart the station. The system showed that a train was approaching, but the workers, believing this to be incorrect, overrode the system and sent the train out, 11 minutes late.

Unfortunately, the system had been correct: there was another train on the line, a JR West commuter train carrying passengers toward Shigaraki for the festival. When a faulty-departure detector failed to work correctly, this other train was sent straight on a collision course with the SKR train.

The resulting crash derailed both trains and cost 42 people their lives. A subsequent investigation faulted the SKR workers for allowing the train to depart without a green signal, an action found to be dangerous and illegal. A signal engineer was also blamed for the defective wiring that led to the failure of the faulty-departure detector that should have prevented the collision. A 1999 civil trial resulted in a 500 million yen award to the victims against SKR and JR West jointly.

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Plane crashes in Thai jungle

Year
1991
Month Day
May 26

On May 26, 1991, a Boeing 767 crashes into the jungle near Bangkok, Thailand, and kills all 223 people on board. The plane was owned and operated by the Austrian company Lauda-Air was the nation’s largest charter operation and famed race car driver Niki Lauda’s first foray into business after his retirement from racing.

The flight originated in Hong Kong and was ultimately headed to Vienna. After a brief stop in Bangkok, the plane was climbing out of Bangkok Airport when a computer malfunctioned. The thrust reverser on the port engine, which essentially puts the engine in reverse, deployed suddenly. Though pilots fought to override it, they were not able to do so.

Just 16 minutes after takeoff, the plane was sent plunging into the Thailand jungle 100 miles north of Bangkok. The 203 passengers and 20 crew members on board all died on impact. The plane’s black box was destroyed, making the cause of the crash difficult to determine.

Niki Lauda immediately went to the site of the crash, where it was reported that he personally went through the strewn bodies and aircraft parts searching for evidence. Eventually, the mechanical evidence and a voice recorder pointed to a serious problem with the jet’s thrust reverser. Boeing was forced to recall and modify the 767’s thrust reversing system at the conclusion of the official investigation.

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Videotaped murder leads to convictions in Texas


Year
1991
Month Day
January 23

Darrell Lunsford, a county constable in Garrison, Texas, is killed after pulling over a traffic violator. His murder was remarkable because it was captured on a camera set up in Lunsford’s patrol vehicle. The videotape evidence led to the conviction of the three men who beat, kicked, and stabbed the officer to death along the East Texas highway.

Lunsford pulled over a vehicle and turned on the video camera installed on his front dashboard. He appeared to have asked the three men in the car to open the trunk. However, when the men got out of the car they tackled Lunsford and stabbed him in the neck before driving off. Later that night, Reynaldo Villarreal was picked up by officers as he was walking a few miles from the murder site. His brother, Baldemar, and another man, Jesus Zambrano, were also arrested a short time later. At the trial of the three men, the jury watched the videotape and all were convicted.

The videotaped murder of Lunsford has ushered in a new era. Video cameras have become ubiquitous in police cars, and have proven to be a potent law-enforcement tool.

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Video recreation used in murder trial


Year
1991
Month Day
February 27

Artie Mitchell is shot to death by his brother Jim in his Corte Madera, California, house. When police responding to a 911 call by Artie’s girlfriend arrived at the house they found Jim wandering aimlessly outside carrying a rifle. Artie had been shot multiple times in the chest and head and was already dead.

The Mitchell brothers had made a fortune in the pornography business. They also owned a popular strip club in San Francisco and had wild lifestyles to match their profession. Despite their success, the brothers were constantly fighting, often in violent physical encounters. Jim Mitchell claimed that his brother’s death resulted from one of these fights.

However, based on the 911 call, the prosecution argued that it was first-degree, premeditated murder. Five out of the eight total shots from the rifle could be heard in the background of the 911 call with a 30-second gap between two of the shots. Thus, authorities maintained that Jim had shot the already-wounded Artie to death in cold blood.

At the trial in 1992, prosecutors sought to introduce an animated video that reconstructed the events of February 27, 1991. This video showed Jim shooting Artie with a final shot to the head. The defense attorneys vehemently objected to this evidence, maintaining that it was impossible to know which shots came at what time. Despite this major problem with the re-creation, the judge admitted the video.

Although the video was shown to the jury, the defense attacked the prosecution’s forensic experts and forced them to admit that pure speculation was at the heart of the video presentation. In the end, the jury only convicted Jim Mitchell of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Computer-generated video re-creations of crime scenes are used more often today. The public got a taste of their quality during the O.J. Simpson trial, when several were presented on television news shows. However, they remain controversial. With so much left to interpretation, courts are sometimes hesitant to admit re-creations as evidence.

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