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Chaos breaks out after King verdict

LOS ANGELES, April 29, 1992 (UPI) - Despite widespread pleas for calm, hundreds of people angered by the acquittal of four white officers in the Rodney King police beating trial rampaged through the streets, dragging people from their cars, setting fires There were reports of scattered sniper fire, but police said nobody was hit.

The most severe violence was reported in predominantly black South Los Angeles, where bands of young people threw rocks and bottles at passing motorists. At least two motorists were pulled out of their vehicles and beaten, and a reporter was attacked.

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Gangs looted a liquor store near Normandie and Florence avenues, where at least one car and a business were set on fire. Eight buildings at a nearby mini-mall were also set ablaze.

While Police Chief Daryl Gates was addressing reporters in a Parker Center police headquarters conference room, hundreds of people began to gather outside.

The gathering was initially peaceful, but police in riot gear were called in to secure the area when protesters surged toward the front lobby, throwing clods of dirt and rocks. At least one window was broken. Lt. Roger Fox said one man was arrested for throwing something at a police officer.

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The entire Police Department was placed on tactical alert status, which means all officers on duty will remain on duty, days off were cancelled, and officers normally off duty were asked to report. The Fire Department called in all its high-ranking officers.

At least two businesses, a car and some mattresses in the street were set afire in the Normandie Avenue area. At one business, a cordon of police cars accompanied fire engines and a paramedic unit to protect them while they battled the blaze, but police were noticeably absent from the scene of the worst violence.

UPI Radio reporter Bob Brill was dragged from a phone booth while he was feeding his story and beaten up. Brill said a group of angry youths kicked and punched him, stole his tape recorder and smashed the windows in his car.

Brill managed to get back to his car and drive to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for a broken thumb and bruises.

At least two motorists were dragged from their cars and beaten up. Young men strode by one man who was lying in the street and pelted him with bottles and kicked him in the head.

The driver of a cement truck was pulled from his cab and beaten senseless. He was reportedly in serious condition.

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The chaos came despite pleas for people to remain calm from community leaders, including Mayor Tom Bradley, District Attorney Ira Reiner, Cardinal Roger Mahony and even President Bush.

The violence brought back vivid memories of the August 1965 Watts riots, in which 34 people -- 29 of them black -- were killed, more than 1,000 were injured and $200 million in property went up in flames. More than 700 fires were set. The riot started when a Highway Patrol officer arrested a man, a crowd gathered and the violence escalated into six days of rioting that devastated the area.

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