New Digital Resource for the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest

Events and Exhibitions

A new digital knowledge project published on the Scalar platform, The Los Angeles Riots: Independent and Webster Commissions Collections, offers insight into the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest. Two archives at the USC Libraries, the Independent (Christopher) Commission and Webster Commission collections contain the records of two independent commissions set up to investigate the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the wake of the 1991 Rodney King beating and the subsequent civil unrest. Together, the collections comprise some ninety boxes of audio and video recordings of interviews, court transcripts, internal LAPD documents, and other materials that are accessible through the USC Digital Library. The records came to the USC Libraries after the commissions published their respective reports and were sealed for twenty years before being cataloged, digitized, and made accessible.

On April 29, 1992, chaos erupted on the streets of Los Angeles after a mostly white jury acquitted four LAPD officers in the beating of a Black motorist, Rodney King. The rioting lasted six days, and the National Guard, regular Army troops, and U.S. Marines were called in to patrol the streets of South Los Angeles. More than twenty-five years later, the events of 1992 continue to resonate as violence perpetrated by police on communities of color has occurred repeatedly in the ensuing decades, giving rise to an ever-growing movement for change in law enforcement practices and policing procedures. 

The online resource highlights digital selections from these collections, including documents detailing excessive use of force complaints, LAPD training bulletins, and transcripts of interviews with prominent religious leaders and local business owners. The online resource was designed to engage the academic and public communities in continued research and analysis of Los Angeles law enforcement culture.

To raise greater awareness of this online resource and to reflect on the collections’ current and historical significance, the USC Libraries will host a public, online panel discussion in the spring of 2021 with local historians, journalists, and academics.

The site was designed and produced by Suzanne Noruschat and Anne-Marie Maxwell of the USC Libraries with support from the USC Ahmanson Lab.

The project to digitize the records from the Los Angeles Webster Commission and the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department was made possible by a major grant to the USC Libraries from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. The two archival collections were catalogued thanks to a major grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.