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‘Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982 – 1992’ (review)

Produced by Jeanmarie Condon,
John Ridley, Fatima Curry

Written and Directed by John Ridley
Featuring Tim Goldman, Michael Moulin,
Mark Jackson, Donald Jones, Henry Watson,
Kee Ha, Bobby Green, Damian Williams,
Gary Williams, Georgiana Williams

 

The powerful new documentary by John Ridley (an Oscar winner for his script for 12 Years a Slave and creator of the TV series American Crime), details the events leading up to the LA riots of 1992 and gives us pieces of the story many of us never knew before.

Going back 10 years, it documents the culture of overly aggressive policing instituted by LAPD Chief Daryl Gates and the tensions between the black and Korean communities in South Central LA, which became the epicenter of the riots.

It’s a well-researched and incredibly emotional story that weaves together several points of view from that fateful day — including victims, police, attorneys, and bystanders.

On April 29, 1992, Angelenos were stunned to hear that the four officers on trial for the vicious beating of Rodney King were acquitted. Within minutes of the verdict, LA began to burn: The long-simmering resentment and bitterness at decades of unchecked police violence exploded in violent rioting that went largely unchecked for three days.

Because King died in 2012 and the four officers — Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno — tried for his beating refused to cooperate with the film, they’re represented via existing news footage and interviews.

The toughest part of the whole film is watching those smug bastards defend themselves on camera, and their gloating after their acquittal. And for everyone yelling “I hope you burn in hell,” as they leave the Simi Valley courtroom, there was someone else yelling, “Atta boy, Stacy!”

The film begins in 1982, with the death of James Mincey Jr., just one of the city’s black men who died of a chokehold in police custody. Those chokeholds were later outlawed — and replaced by the use of metal batons to subdue suspects.

The various merits of both uses of force are debated throughout, as is the troubling perception by many police that any suspect who resisted arrest had to be high on PCP, and thus required extraordinary force to subdue.

Robert J. Simpach, an officer who was on the scene for Mincey’s death, shrugs off the incident as “too bad,” but says he felt no guilt, not even when he learned Mincey left behind a pregnant girlfriend (who is also interviewed in the film). It’s no surprise when we learn later on that this same officer was also on the scene for the notorious Rodney King beating. It’s an incident he describes as “100 percent LAPD policy,” despite Gates’s later insistence that the violent beating was an “aberration.”

It’s astonishing not just to hear Simpach defending Gates’s anti-black statements and brutal methods, but that he agreed to cooperate with the film at all. (Gates, who stepped down after the riots, died in 2010).

Another unlikely commentator: One of the jurors who voted to acquit the four officers in one of the most high-profile cases in LA history. He shares that he went in thinking the cops were guilty, only to be convinced during the course of the trial that they were “just doing their job” and that what they did “wasn’t against the law.” The man’s own revelation that he discovered he’s a quarter black — the jury contained no black members — elicits nothing but an eye roll, especially since he offers no apologies or second thoughts  about the verdict.

Terry White, who prosecuted the four cops, provides some of the most interesting commentary. I wouldn’t be surprised if the case isn’t eventually given the “American Crime Story” treatment since it’s every bit as fascinating as the O.J. Simpson trial.

When we meet the commentators in the film, we don’t know where they will end up fitting into the riots: We learn some lost loved ones, some heroically saved victims during the riots and some were out there committing some of the worst violence. It’s an interesting approach that builds sympathy for each person’s story — up to a point — and leaves you wondering what you would have done in the midst of the chaos. Would you risk your own life to save a complete stranger?

Unless you’re well-versed in the riots, you might not recognize the names that are revealed to be members of the infamous LA Four, who brutally attacked truck driver Reginald Denny. They are presented neutrally, without judgment, which might be a sticking point for some viewers. Denny himself does not appear in the film.

While many people seem to think the explosive violence of the 1992 riots came out of nowhere, Ridley carefully demonstrates how and why they happened.

He doesn’t make the point that the same injustices exist today and how it’s likely to happen all over again. He doesn’t need to.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

 

Let It Fall premieres tonight, Friday, April 28, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

 

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Robert Simpach

    February 20, 2018 at 5:51 am

    Re James Mincey’s death, I didn’t just coldly say “too bad”, I said it was too bad he died, that it was unfortunate he died, and unusual, since many thousands of choke outs occurred without incident, and in the police academy half the members of each class got choked out every week, by the other half of the class, and again, without incident. And whether he had a pregnant girlfriend or not, he had a loving mother, and I believe it was an even sadder incident for the dear lady. My heart went out to her & her husband. But I have no reason to feel guilty, since neither I nor the other officers present did anything illegal or wrong. I was not, nor am I a calloused or cold-hearted person, as the preceding article seems to portray. Re Rodney King and supporting Chief Gates “anti-black statements”, I don’t have a clue as to which statements they are referring. I did mention all the sensationalized coverage re Chief Gates’ statement after the Mincey incident where he said the individuals who had died from chokeholds (I think 16 of the 17 were black Americans) weren’t normal, because people were being choked out all the time and not dying. And the press jumped on the band wagon exclaiming that Chief Gates said “blacks weren’t normal”, and he was severely criticized for it over and over and over; Typical misrepresentation by the agenda-driven press. AND finally, re Rodney King: after the two officers were found guilty, the judge chastised King for his actions which led to the incident and said that all the police use of force, (up until near the end) was legal, up until officer Briseno stepped on the back of King’s neck, because he was not complying with the lawful orders of the police and was resisting arrest. That logically means the allleged baton-blow to the face of King was deemed legal, per the judge hearing the case. And remember, officer Briseno was not found guilty of the action he took, although the judge didn’t think it was legal. In short, it was deemed legally justified to hit Mr King on the back of his legs as long as he was not complying with the officers’ commands and was resisting arrest,. But Rodney King finally STOPPED resisting arrest and began complying with the officers’ commands. Officer Powell was holding his handcuffs and about to handcuff Mr King when officer Briseno stepped on him. Once again, Mr King began resisting a legal arrest, and the officers again began using the exact same force they had been using up to that point (which the judge stated was legal), for approx 13 seconds, and after a brief period in which Mr King seemed to be about to submit and then didn’t, approx 9 more seconds. At that point Rodney King held up his hands and said he was giving up. He was handcuffed and the incident was over. For some inexplicable reason, it was decided the same justifiable force used before officer Briseno’s action was not justified after Briseno’s action, even though Mr King was still refusing to comply and resisting. That seems illogical to me, but what is done is done. Extremely sad and unfortunate series of events. Hopefully some day we can all be open-minded and act responsibly all the time. Like Rodney King proclaimed “ can’t we all just get along?” We are all in this together, we all want the same things for ourselves, our fellow men and our loved ones. With less prejudicial actions and more reasonableness and kindness, we just might become an even greater nation and be an example to the rest of the world.

    • Disgusted

      July 6, 2019 at 3:57 pm

      Why imply that Mincey’s girlfriend was pregnant by another man? Why imply that Mincey died because of drugs in his system, when you know there was no evidence of PCP? I hope to God you are cured of your racism.

  2. Marshall Mc

    February 27, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    This writer fits the New Jounalism, which is not journalism at all. They don’t even try to hide bias. I grew up in same town as bob and he comes from a very nice family. Obviously he was being misquoted. Knock this crap off.

  3. E

    May 11, 2019 at 1:50 am

    No matter what you say I will always think your a cold hearted piece of shit … and in the Doc you said he “pushed” Rodney king and dident kick him.. we all seen the video your not gonna tell me he dident kick him and you stated that the first gentleman you “KILLED” with the chokehold you kept saying “oh it’s cause of pcp” how? If he was just stopped by officers he is not driving crazy on the road how is that man on pcp….. in my opinion you should have been given the death penalty for that. killing a man in front of his family… I really hope the though of that keeps you up at night your a terrible in humane person and I hope you Rot…

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