In Los Angeles, California, four Los Angeles police officers that had been caught beating an unarmed African American motorist in an amateur video are acquitted of any wrongdoing in the arrest. Hours after the verdicts were announced, outrage and protest turned to violence as the LA riots began. Protestors in south-central Los Angeles blocked freeway traffic and beat motorists, wrecked and looted numerous downtown stores and buildings, and set more than 100 fires.
On March 3, 1991, paroled felon Rodney King led police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Los Angeles County before eventually surrendering. Intoxicated and uncooperative, King resisted arrest and was brutally beaten by police officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind. Unbeknownst to the police, a citizen with a personal video camera was filming the arrest, and the 89-second video caught the police beating King with their batons and kicking him long after he was capable of resistance. The video, released to the press, caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality.
Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Stacey 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. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer present at the scene he was charged with aiding and abetting. 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 LA riots, which grew into the largest U.S. civil disturbances of the 20th century.
Violence first erupted at the intersection of Florence Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in south-central Los Angeles. Traffic was blocked, and rioters beat dozens of motorists, including Reginald Denny, a truck driver who was dragged out of his truck and nearly beaten to death. A news helicopter, hovering over the street, recorded the event. Los Angeles police were slow to respond, and the violence radiated to areas throughout the city. California Governor Pete Wilson deployed the National Guard at the request of Mayor Tom Bradley, and a curfew was declared. By the morning, hundreds of fires were burning across the city, more than a dozen people had been killed, and hundreds were injured.
The unrest continued during the next 24 hours, and Korean shop owners in African American neighborhoods defended their businesses with rifles. On May 1, President George Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles and by the end of the next day the city was under control. The three days of disorder killed more than 60 people, injured almost 2,000, led to 7,000 arrests, and caused nearly $1 billion in property damage, including the burnings of more than 3,000 buildings.
Under federal law, the four officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights. 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. King died in 2012, of an accidental drowning.
Citation InformationArticle Title Riots erupt in Los Angeles after police officers are acquitted in Rodney King trialAuthorHistory.com EditorsWebsite Name HISTORYURL https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/riots-erupt-in-los-angeles
On May 27, 1861, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland issues Ex parte Merryman, challenging the authority of President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. military to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (the legal procedure that prevents the government from holding an individual indefinitely without showing cause) in Maryland.
Early in the war, President Lincoln faced many difficulties due to the fact that Washington was located in slave territory. Although Maryland did not secede, Southern sympathies were widespread. On April 27, 1861, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to give military authorities the necessary power to silence dissenters and rebels. Under this order, commanders could arrest and detain individuals who were deemed threatening to military operations. Those arrested could be held without indictment or arraignment.
On May 25, John Merryman, a vocal secessionist, was arrested in Cockeysville, Maryland. He was held at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, where he appealed for his release under a writ of habeas corpus. The federal circuit court judge was Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who issued a ruling, Ex parte Merryman, denying the president’s authority to suspend habeas corpus. Taney denounced Lincoln’s interference with civil liberties and argued that only Congress had the power to suspend the writ.
Lincoln did not respond directly to Taney’s edict, but he did address the issue in his message to Congress that July. He justified the suspension through Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, which specifies a suspension of the writ “when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”
Although military officials continued to arrest suspected Southern sympathizers, the incident led to a softening of the policy. Concern that Maryland might still secede from the Union forced a more conciliatory stance from Lincoln and the military. Merryman was remanded to civil authorities in July and allowed to post bail. He was never brought to trial, and the charges of treason against him were dropped two years after the war.
The mutiny on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty occurred in the South Pacific Ocean on 28 April 1789. Disaffected crewmen, led by acting-Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh, and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship's open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island. Bligh navigated more than 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) in the launch to reach safety, and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice. In October 1790, Bligh was honorably acquitted at the court-martial inquiring into the loss of Bounty. He eventual rose to the rank of Vice Admiral of the Blue Squadron.
Though often portrayed as a tyrant who drive his crew to mutiny, a reexamination of Bligh's manner of command arguably suggests that far from being to hard on his crew, he was too lenient and failed to curd their excesses during the many months that they were in Tahiti. One example of his failure to exercise some modicum of control related to the use of ships nails as barter items. The iron nails were much prized by the native, who could fashion them into many different utensils, but were also necessary for keeping the ship in repair. Eventually, the crew pilfered all of the fresh nails, and even began prying nails from the Bounty's woodwork to trade for food, drink, and female companionship.
After Bligh reached England in April 1790, the Admiralty dispatched HMS Pandora to apprehend the mutineers. Fourteen were captured in Tahiti and imprisoned on board Pandora, which then searched without success for Christian's party that had hidden on Pitcairn Island. After turning back towards England, Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, with the loss of 31 crew and four prisoners from Bounty. The 10 surviving detainees reached England in June 1792 and were court martialed; four were acquitted, three were pardoned and three were hanged.
Christian's group remained undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, by which time only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. Almost all of his fellow mutineers, including Christian, had been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. No action was taken against Adams; descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian captives live on Pitcairn into the 21st century.
Bligh's logbooks documenting the mutiny were officially inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register on 26 February 2021
Hamlet’s question, “To be, or not to be,” poses a timely existential question for America: “To be” for democracy under the rule of law; or “not to be,” to do nothing and allow the nation to commit political suicide. We have been led to the brink by a man so self-absorbed as to be insensible to the harm he has caused at the head of a political party that values victory above virtue, an equally power-obsessed opposition, and a public that waivers between placid indifference and a rabid desire for rapid change that they would willingly abandon the rule of law.
At various times, the Center for Teaching the Rule of Law has made short posts about significant events in the history of the Rule of Law -- for Black History Month, for Women's History Month, etc. Approximately 1 month ago, we began making daily posts of historical events related to the Rule of Law on Facebook and Twitter. Starting today, we will be adding these posts directly to the CTROL website through this blog.
April 26, 1798 (or 1800, sources differ) -- James Beckwourth is born in Frederick county Virginia, the son of a white plantation owner and an enslaved woman. Beckwourth's father apprenticed him to a blacksmith and eventually manumitted him. As an adult, Beckwourth moved first to St. Louis and then became a mountain man, trapping and living among the Crow people who adopted him into their tribe. Beckwourth participated in the Gold Rush of 1849 and later served as an Army scout. The civil rights movement of the 1960s celebrated Beckwourth as an early African-American pioneer. He has since been featured as a role model in children's literature and textbooks.