The most-watched court cases in television history

On March 3, 1991, video shows Rodney King being brutally attacked by LAPD officers after an 8-mile police chase. The footage was widely broadcast on television news, sparking nationwide anger over King’s treatment. King, who was on parole for theft, was released without charge.

Meanwhile, the four officers have been charged with assault and excessive use of force. The outrage in Los Angeles was so palpable that their trial was moved to Ventura County, per History. Along with Los Angeles, the nation watched the trial expecting proportionate justice for what was seen as a prime example of racist police brutality. Local television stations reported that the trial received more viewers than other local programs, according to the LA Times.

But the jury found the officers not guilty, except for a single charge of assault which resulted in the jury’s hiatus. As a result, Los Angeles erupted in five days of rioting. The reaction was particularly strong in South Los Angeles, which was predominantly black at the time and saw a 50% unemployment rate, per NPR. Across the city, there was widespread arson and looting, which resulted in property damage of a billion dollars. In just three days, 60 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured, forcing President George HW Bush to send in federal officers.

In 1993, a federal trial found two of the officers guilty of assault, and King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil suit, per History.

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