Los Angeles is the home of championship teams, beaches, A-list stars and a place where people move to make dreams come true. The documentary, Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 produced by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), chronicles the nightmare of deplorable living conditions in South Central Los Angeles during the 10 years leading up to the LA riots following the acquittal of a group of white officers captured on video beating motorist Rodney King. The film was screened in December at a Tribeca theater in New York City.
The eye-opening documentary takes a microscopic view of the horrific incidents that happened in the South Central Los Angeles area over a decade. Ridley uses real footage to shine a light on factors that contributed to emotions that led citizens to take the law into their own hands when justice was not served in the Rodney King beating trial in 1992.
As a person who was a child living on the East Coast at the time of the riots, I did not understand the reason why this happened. I initially thought it was a strong reaction to the injustice in the American justice system. The filmmaker made sure that any misconceptions or downplaying of the riots are crushed with actual interviews from victims, witnesses and former police officers that were involved in the incidents surrounding the riots were included.
The film starts with a quick history lesson. South Central wasn’t initially a crime infested area full of gangs and civil unrest. For African-Americans who moved to Southern California during the great migration, the dream of a quality of life better than the bigotry filled south, quickly turned into a nightmare plagued with institutional racism, crime ridden neighborhoods, violence, murders and an ongoing war between cops and citizens.
The evidence in the film piles up quickly against the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD was led by Daryl Gates during the period covered in the documentary. Gates believed in taking down drug offenders and those committing crimes with excessive force. Some of his approved tactics included chokeholds that resulted in numerous deaths and beating citizens with a police baton to gain cooperation. Gates was unapologetic when citizens were outraged at the constant harassment and killings that happened during arrests. Most of the citizens killed were unarmed African-Americans.
In the time leading up to the 1992 LA riots, there was high tension, division and racism between, blacks, Koreans, Whites and police.
The cases and archival footage in Let it Fall is heartbreaking. One of the most disturbing cases is the murder of Latasha Harlins. She was involved in an argument with the Korean owner of a local store with over a bottle of orange juice. Harlins, who was on her way to school, was shot and killed while trying to leave the store. The store’s owner was given probation for her murder with no jail time.
There was story after story in the film including bad behavior of the LAPD and the failing justice system in Los Angeles. I had a hard time holding back tears while watching the film.
The beating of Rodney King and the trial of the officers comes closer to the middle of the film. By the time the story reached this point, I found this film to be painful, riveting and worth watching, even though I wanted to walk out.
The bravery of the citizens and the witnesses adds light to the interviews. Stereotypes were torn down in the storytelling of this documentary. I gained a new found respect for those who lived in South Central through this horrible time in American history.
The film is raw, uncensored in its footage and honest in the interview confessions. Let it Fall is a film that police departments, schools and those who think they know what really happened during the riots that took place from April 29 - May 4, 1992. There was an absence of law enforcement for most of the riot. There were 63 people killed and lives were changed by the incidents that took place. I commend John Ridley and his team of producers who had to watch the footage and view the hours of unedited interviews prior to the final cut of the film.
I highly recommend this film. Americans need to be aware of the injustice that happened in South Central. Raising awareness of social injustice could help prevent the terror that plagued this community from happening again. Innocent people shouldn’t have to die for justice to happen. Let it Fall is available to view via limited screenings nationwide with a future release on Netflix planned. Details about the documentary are available on ABC.go.com.