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Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

Year: 2017
Production Co: Lincoln Square Productions
Director: John Ridley
Writer: John Ridley

To many people over a certain age, the Rodney King incident and LA riots have receded to the back of the collective memory along with JFK, 9/11 and Y2K as cultural and historical footnotes, far more pressing concerns now capturing the cultural zeitgeist.

Let It Fall, from director John Ridley (writer of 12 Years a Slave), is a reminder not only that the reasons behind the events of April 29, 1992 are still with us and just as urgent, but that we should still be angry at the racial divides in America in this day and age.

Even more importantly and skillfully, it goes beyond the soundbites and grainy video clips we remember from the time. The film opens with straight to camera testimonials from an assortment of people talking about their experiences with the King verdict and aftermath, and over the course of the (considerable) running time, we discover that these people were the ones in and behind the news.

After hearing from a soft-spoken young Korean woman, we learn she's the sister of the young man who left his home to help defend businesses when the violence reached LA's Koreatown before being shot and killed. A Japanese-American man turns out to be the brother of the young graphic designer killed in the crossfire when gang violence reached the upscale neighbourhood of Brentwood one fateful night.

A guy who looks like a friendly smalltown schoolteacher turns out to be the local LAPD commander in the worst of it who received orders to pull the police completely out and leave South Central LA an anarchic warzone.

The woman talking about the police response was actually a beat cop who defied the order and went into the fray with her partner to rescue the injured, themselves almost overrun by enraged crowds.

It's hard to forget the news chopper footage of a truck driver dragged out of the cab of his semi trailer and beaten half to death. One of the interviewees turns out to be the guy who rammed half a brick into the side of the man's head and threw his arms up to show off to his friends nearby.

Ridley and his team have tracked down and found the people not just who remembered it but were there, touched by it and who took part in it. Many of them have served jail time for crimes the whole world witnessed, others have to live with the loss of loved ones (the final death toll was over 50 people).

But as the name suggests, Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is about much more than just picking over the ruins of the LA riots. To Ridley, the seed of anger was planted far earlier, and LA race relations has always been a tinderbox.

The Rodney King beating wasn't even the first example of what the black community saw as judicial bias against them. When a Korean grocer shot and killed 15 year old Latasha Harlins in her store after an argument in front of terrified witnesses (and security camera footage that will send your heart into your throat), she didn't even get a jail sentence.

It's one step in a decade-long process in the fracturing of race relations, starting with adversarial LA police chief Daryl Gates and the new approach to policing in LA that made paramilitarisation in predominantly black and poor neighbourhoods and violence against blacks official policy.

One ugly chapter in the history Let It Fall looks at was Operation Hammer, an effort to crack down on gang violence after crack cocaine, cheap guns and the newly minted blood and crip lifestyle flooded South Central. Instead of stemming the flow of drugs or violence, it gave police carte blanche over harassment, arbitrary imprisonment, property destruction and violence, mostly against blacks and sowing the seeds of hatred for the cops by an entire race.

A series of powderkeg moments saw anger rise, and when four white cops were acquitted of viciously beating Rodney King in a video the whole world saw, it exploded.

Ridley isn't out to sugarcoat what happened and he doesn't hold back on the shocking imagery. The grainy camcorder footing of King being bashed – taken from across the street by a nearby resident – is pored over, zoomed in on and repeated throughout the film, as are shots of the helicopter footage of the violence around the epicentre of the riots at the intersection of Normandie and Florence Avenues.

At more than one point the film zooms right in on the footage of Reginald Denny – the long haired truck driver bashed in the street – lying on the asphalt in a daze, his face a mask of blood.

But despite the brutality and violence, it's not a tale of good and evil. The man who saw the same pictures on TV and went to rescue Reginald Denny and take him to hospital was black, believing God instructed him to do so. The area commander ordered to vacate the riot later sued the LA city government because he knew at the time how many more people would get hurt if there were no cops around. The truth behind the people involved reveals that even though race is the issue, racism affects everybody.

It's a story about how April/May 1992 almost had to happen because of a long buildup of institutional racism and brutality, and how the hatred and anger should never be forgotten – especially in modern America where things are hardly better for immigrants, blacks and the poor.

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