I wrote the following blog on the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots that erupted subsequent to the jury verdict that dismissed the case against four LAPD officers who incessantly beat Rodney King (1965-2012) during his arrest, after a high-speed chase, for driving while intoxicated on the I-210 Freeway on March 3, 1991. George Holliday filmed the beating from his nearby balcony and sent the footage to a local news station (KTLA). The video showed an unarmed Rodney King on the ground being abused after initially evading arrest. The incident was covered by news media around the world and caused wide scale rioting throughout Los Angeles.
The rioting lasted six days, killed 63 people, and injured 2,383. It ended after the California Army National Guard and Marine Corps joined the LAPD to re-establish control. The federal government prosecuted a civil rights case and obtained grand jury indictments of the four officers for the violation of Rodney King’s civil rights. Their trial in a federal district court ended in April 1993 with two of the officers found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms. The other two were acquitted of the charges. In a separate civil lawsuit in 1994, a jury found the City of Los Angeles liable and awarded Rodney King $3.8 million in damages.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley created an Independent Commission of inquiry, also known as the Christopher Commission, in April 1991. Led by attorney (and a former United States Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton), Warren Christopher, the Commission conducted “a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD,” including its recruitment and training practices, internal disciplinary system, and citizen complaint system. (Source: Wikipedia)
When my community at Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles learned of Howard Epstein’s death (he grew up at Temple Israel – his parents were beloved members), the sense of loss for them, his wife, children, sister, and extended family was very great. Here is my blog reprinted and updated from the 20th anniversary of Howard’s death.
The day after the Rodney King verdict thirty years ago (April 29, 1992), I received a call from long-time Temple Israel of Hollywood members, Lillian and Marty Epstein, that their son Howard (who was about my age) was missing.
As soon as the rioting began, Howard flew from Oakland Airport near his family home in Orinda, CA to attend to his business located in South Los Angeles. He owned and operated a factory there for a number of years and employed 20 workers. These were people about whom he cared deeply. He knew all their families, and so, when the riots erupted Howard felt it his duty to be with them.
He landed at LAX in the late afternoon, rented a car, and commenced his fifteen-minute drive to his place of business. Along the way, somewhere, he vanished. By evening no one heard from him. Given the tumult in the city, his wife Stephanie and parents were worried.
The following day, exactly thirty years ago this weekend, the police contacted Lillian and Marty with the terrible news. At a stop-light Howard was approached by two men who murdered him at point blank range and took everything of value in his car. The police were able to identify Howard only by tracing the car to the rental agency.
Howard deliberately moved a couple of years earlier with Stephanie and their two small children out of Los Angeles because he felt the city was no longer safe and he did not want to raise his children in this environment.
When the rioting stopped, we honored Howard’s memory in a memorial service in our synagogue Sanctuary where he became bar mitzvah many years earlier. His family and friends described Howard as among the most kind, community conscious, and caring of men, a rachaman ben rachmanim, a compassionate son of compassionate parents.
I remember Howard every year at this time, and especially this week, thirty years after his tragic death.
Zichrono livracha. May Howard’s memory be a blessing.