Skip to comments.Bob Tur, the L.A. Riotsí Eye in the Sky, on Reginald Denny & More (re Rodney King verdict)
Posted on 04/28/2012 7:41:38 PM PDT by doug from upland
(VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH BOB TUR AT THE LINK)
Bob Tur, the L.A. Riots Eye in the Sky, on Reginald Denny & More
by Matthew DeLuca Apr 26, 2012 9:00 PM EDT Bob Tur invented the news helicopterand used it to film the beating of Reginald Denny on live TV. He tells Matt DeLuca about his strange souvenir, his wife's warning, and more.
Well before the Los Angeles riots broke out on April 29, 1992, Bob Tur knew what was missing from television news: images. Footage of what was happening as it was happening. Not shot from a news van or a cameramans shoulder, but from high abovefrom a helicopter.
Reporter Bob Tur describes capturing the beating of Reginald Denny on film footage that later became an iconic image from the L.A. Riots
Tur, who would go on to shoot some of the most important footage in the history of television news, was 21 years old when he began pitching his idea to L.A. television stations in the 1980s. None bit. But he spoke to the right people at Bell Helicopter Textron, and somehow wrangled himself a chopper. Looking for the most daring operators in the business, he took his training from the pilots at the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Through the 1980s, Turs lens, guided by his then-wife Merika Gerrard, captured news as it unfolded for their company, the Los Angeles News Service. So when the Los Angeles police officers who had been videotaped beating Rodney King were up for trial, Tur knew there was the potential for a major news event. In the weeks before the verdict was handed down, he was out on the street, talking to cops, gang members, and ordinary residents of Compton and South Central.
He asked members of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips what he could expect if a not guilty verdict were delivered. The streets would see their anger, the gangsters told him. And so on April 29, as the jury handed down acquittals, Tur was in his hangar at the Santa Monica airport, ready to go. A heavy silence followed the announcement, Tur recalled in an interview with The Daily Beasteventually broken by his wife. Let the beatings begin, she said.
Defying his assignment-desk editor, who told him that there would be no violence, Tur took off in his American Eurocopter AS350 B2 with Gerrard, copilot Doug Denoff, and photographer Robert Clark. For fear that the LAPD and Federal Aviation Administration would try to shut down air space over the city, he also took along lawyer Matthew Fairshter. Flying low out over the city, Tur directed his aircraft to the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues, where the Eight Tray Gangster Crips hung out at Toms Liquor. And then he circled.
About 45 minutes elapsed between the time he arrived above the intersection and the time the city exploded, Tur told The Daily Beast.
It started with some rocks being thrown at passing motorists, he said. But then it escalated to Toms Liquor store being looted by people who lived in the community. They werent taking bottles; they were taking cases of liquor. Anger mixed with liquor is explosive. Within 30 minutes I watched a KNX news-radio van come under attack with bricks, rocks, and anything that wasnt nailed down.
Basketball fans were still headed to a game at the Coliseum, Tur knew, and as more vehicles were pelted with bottles and rocks, he warned viewers of his live broadcast on KCOP-TV Channel 13 to stay away from the flashpoint. It was clear, Tur said that if you were any race other than blackand this includes Hispanic, Asian, whiteyou were in danger.
The man wanted to burn Mr. Denny alive, Tur said. We were watching a man being lynched in the streets.
From the air, it was plain to see that the situation on the ground was deteriorating quickly. He continued to circle, describing events to Americans at work and at home across the country, telling them what it looked like to watch a city destroying itself. Then people on the ground began shooting at him, Tur said. Still in shock that the LAPD had not made a show of force, he turned to Fairshter and joked, If we get shot down, were shooting you in the leg. Were running for it. Were going to scream that youre a lawyer. Still, Tur didnt leave, despite receiving direction to do so from both his news director and anchor. His helicopter sustained $154,000 worth of damage while he was reporting the story, he said.
Then, close to 6:45 p.m., a 33-year-old white driver for Transit Mixed Concrete decided he was going to take a shortcut off the Santa Monica Freeway. The driver and his 18-wheeler eased down the street toward where 19-year-old Damian Monroe Williams stood. The truck slowed, and then stopped.
Once he stopped that truck, his fate was in stone, Tur says.
The cab door was opened, and Reginald Denny was dragged from his truck. He was beaten and kicked repeatedly. Then, as Tur broadcast the savagery live, Williams, a one-time high school football star, threw a chunk of cinderblock with all his force against Dennys skull. It fractured in 91 places.
Tur says he felt dead inside as he watched, knowing that hed captured an image that would become iconicand that there was nothing he could do to help the man bleeding out onto the street below as his assailants celebrated. Then the camera moved, and so did Turs attention. Another man approached, unscrewed the gas tank to Dennys truck, and attempted to fire his shotgun into it.
The man wanted to burn Mr. Denny alive, Tur said. We were watching a man being lynched in the streets.
Tur says he knows nowand knew thenthat his coverage was crucial to recording the events for history, and for showing America one of her largest cities committing suicide. Yet the coverage had some undesired consequences. There was a dark side to the live coverage, Tur says. Some looters were emboldened by the live images showing zero police presence at Florence and Normandie. Los Angeles Riots
Looters disperse from the ABC Market in South Central Los Angeles during the riots on April 30, 1992., Paul Sakuma / AP Photo
However, the live broadcast may have also saved Dennys life. For while eager looters in the neighborhood were watching, so were Bobby Green, Lei Yuille, Terri Barnett, and Titus Murphy. After seeing Denny pummeled nearly to death, and with every reason to assume that the man had in fact been killed right there as Tur captured it on camera, the four went to the scene, put Denny back in his truck, and drove the nearly lifeless man to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood. Denny survived, despite having suffered severe brain damage.
After seeing Denny beaten, watching Greens courageous actions made me not lose hope, Tur said. Because really to see something like this could have turned me into a racist. Time, Tur said, has helped him gain a sense of context. What we saw at Florence and Normandie was not representative of the entire community. It was representative of a small number of the community, but not of all of the community.
Tur was in the air for three days straight, he says. Sometimes, as he did when he saw Denny beaten, Tur said he would activate his helicopters onboard police siren to frighten off violent rioters, or at least let them know they were being caught on camera. It usually had little effect.
Day became night, Tur says, and fires started occurring. We saw the first fire and then the next fire and then the next fire and then entire city blocks were burning. Flying at low altitude, you could see people, their faces lit by the firelight, and they were stealing anything they could possibly steal.
Either 53 or 55 people died in the riots, depending on which count one goes by. Some 2,300 were injured. Tur would go on to tape the beating of another trucker, Larry Tarvan, who was pulled from his vehicle. Thousands of checks would pour into the Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital to support Dennys recovery, a slow and precarious process that took years. In 1993, Williams would be convicted of four misdemeanors and simple mayhem, and sentenced to serve 10 years, of which he served four. In 2003, he was sentenced to 46 years in Pelican Bay State Prison for the 2000 murder of a Los Angeles drug dealer.
Tur went on to win numerous journalism awards, and was the first to capture footage of O.J. Simpsons white Bronco during the infamous 1994 car chase.
After the prosecution of Williams and Dennys other assailants, prosecutors gave Tur the brick with which Williams crushed Dennys skull. He keeps the instrument of evil locked in his office. To this day, he knows he gave the nation the riots indelible image, a bookend to the Rodney King tape that started it all.
I had to do what I had to do, Tur says of his rush to the intersection of Florence and Normandie 20 years ago. The history was happening.
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Matthew DeLuca is a reporter and researcher for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He has written for New Yorks Daily News and The Boston Globe, among other publications. He was the editor of Boston College's independent student newspaper, The Heights.
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Damian "Football" Williams, probably the best-known of the assailants, was a 19-year-old with a criminal record including arrests for auto theft and robbery but had no convictions. A football star in high school, he dreamed of becoming a professional football player and briefly played in a semi-professional league. When he was 16, he dropped out of school. He joined a gang called the "Eight Tray Gangster Crips".
Williams became the most recognized participant of L.A. riots due to the live news broadcast of his attack on Denny and because of his memorable nickname which was repeated frequently in news media. Williams was identified as the man who had used a brick on Denny by computer enhancement of the videotape which revealed an identifying tattoo. Although the Denny beating received great publicity, Williams and his companions also assaulted and beat several Asian and Latino motorists who were passing through the area. Williams was charged with attempted murder as well as assault and mayhem.
After the riots the Mexican Mafia had a "hit" out on Williams, the contract to kill him was picked up by the now infamous and then little known MS-13. In 1993, Williams was convicted of mayhem and misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 10 years. In 1997, Williams was released for good behavior, but in 2003, he received a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison for the 2000 murder of Grover Tinner, a drug dealer. He will not be eligible for parole until he serves 47 years
Ain't LBJ's Great Society just great? We are well into the third generation of the Great Society right now. < /s >
It only gets worse from here on.
The guy who climbed up on the truck and opened the door was shot in an LA club a couple years after the event, I read.
Poor drug dealer Grover Tinner. He may still be alive had Williams not been released early. Although, for the benefit of society, it actually became a good two-fer.
Antoine “Twan” Miller was a 19-year-old who lived with the Williams family. Miller’s mother was a drug addict; and as a child, Miller was sent to live with his grandmother. When he was 12, his grandmother killed his grandfather and was convicted of this murder, leaving Miller homeless. Williams’ mother, well-known around the neighborhood as kind and caring, took Miller into her home. Miller’s only previous arrest was for joyriding. At the age of 31, Miller was shot in a Hollywood nightclub on February 1, 2004 and died from his wounds soon after.
...and as more vehicles were pelted with bottles and rocks, he warned viewers of his live broadcast on KCOP-TV Channel 13 to stay away from the flashpoint. It was clear, Tur said "that if you were any race other than black -- and this includes Hispanic, Asian, white -- you were in danger." The man wanted to "burn Mr. Denny alive," Tur said. "We were watching a man being lynched in the streets."
But the point is that both of those criminals were products of the LBJs Great Society.
It didn't have to be that way, and it wasn't until the Federal Government decided they could manage every life with a welfare check and an army of social workers.
There 'compassion' has destroyed millions of people and has now become a highly profitable industry that will fight to the death for its own survival.
They don't really give a damn about the number of lives they destroy.
At the time of the riots I was living in Ridgecrest, California, about two hours north of Los Angeles. I remember one announcer (not sure if he was in a chopper or a studio) who called the rioters “animals”. He was ripped by the liberal media, but I agreed with him.
One of the classics from the riots was liberal Hollywood actors asking Charleton Heston to loan them guns. LOL No, jackasses, get trained, go through the waiting period, buy a weapon, and keep it ready to defend your home and family from the animals.
Great thread, Doug. Not a great time for LA....
WHO was the idiot mayor at the time?
Tom Bradley, I think.
Tom Bradley was mayor.
Yeah...that’s right, thanks.
I’ll never forget that press conference he gave. I KNEW there would be rioting...
I lived in the city of Downey when the riots went down, about 2 miles from that intersection. Had a lot of lib neighbors asking for the loan of a weapon and ammunition; same people who would not give me the time of day before this went down.
Naturally I had to refuse them from a liability standpoint, they were more likely to shoot themselves or their husband or wife coming through the door than any bad guy.
These are the same people who thought I was a terrible parent for having weapons in my home with 2 small children ages 10 and 12; never bothered to tell them the kids already had their own long guns and were trained to use them.
Never could understand those people; we lived right across the river bed from the city of Bell, and that town was just full of ex-cons, cons on parole and other assorted criminals and gang banger types. Liberals, go figure.
Tom Bradley... the rabble rouser.
I worked for a company downtown LA in the skid row area.... I remember the smell of burning buildings all around. Everyone in our building got out and made it home safe. A week later I was on sales calls around LA... not just So. Central.... There were burned out buildings everywhere. The people burned out were those who could least afford such a loss. The idiots destroyed their own neighborhoods. For years major supermarket companies and others did not want to build businesses in the inner city areas that had problems. Then the media screamed racist. What a crock.
Yep, how history repeats itself - a thug armed only with concrete draws blood - whether the concrete is used as a missile (Football Williams) or as an anvil for a beating (Trayvon).
Denny didn't have a gun. George Zimmerman did. That is why Denny ended up with a fractured skull and Zimmerman with just scalp lacerations. And I think a majority of Americans are realizing this now. And it drives liberals bonkers.
3rd gen?? Not if they are breeding at 15-16.
Maxine “racist firebug” Waters described the riots as a rebellion. That woman is responsible for at least some of the deaths. She was quite capable of speaking out but unwilling to take that high road. There is blood on her thieving hands.
IIRC, Waters said ‘I do not condone the rioting, but I understand it’. She might have been able to stop it but she poured gasoline on the situation instead.
Thanks for this posting. I didn’t know about the Mexican Mafia putting out a hit on Williams. I well remember the riots, I was over the hill in the valley but could see the plumes of smoke rising and smell the burning buildings.
We couldn’t believe the images on TV — no police around, no call for the National Guard or military action. I also remember that most of the looters that were arrested were Mexicans who had no idea who Rodney King was - they only saw smashed windows, no police presence and didn’t want to be left out of the fun.
Revisonist history by the author and perhaps Tur himself. Television stations were using helicopters in the 70s. As only one example, Francis Gary Powers was killed in August of 1977 flying for KNBC.