The L.A. Riots at 20: Edward James Olmos Remembers 'All-Out War' in Hollywood

LA Riots Edward James Olmos 1992 - H 2012
John Gaps III/AP

LA Riots Edward James Olmos 1992 - H 2012

The actor and activist talks about cleaning the streets with a broom while being watched by the military and how the death of Trayvon Martin creates a similar tension in 2012.

This story originally appeared in the May 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots began just after 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, when a Simi Valley jury acquitted four LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. The six-day unrest spread quickly throughout the city and left 53 people dead, about 2,500 injured and more than $800 million in damage. 

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The first night, a 100-strong crowd tried breaking into the DGA on Sunset during the premiere of New Line’s Big Girls Don’t Cry. Rioters vandalized Hollywood Boulevard shops near the landmark Chinese Theatre. The next day, most events were postponed, including Lakers, Dodgers and Clippers games. Location shoots stopped as police providing security were called to duty. Playboy still went ahead with its Playmate of the Year luncheon at Hugh Hefner’s Holmby Hills mansion.

“The studios most affected were Paramount and the Warner lot in West Hollywood,” says Lawrence J. Spagnola, co-author of King’s new biography The Riot Within.

Actor and activist Edward James Olmos says Hollywood on Thursday night “looked like Beirut, like an all-out war going on.” Seeing someone in the street who had been shot in the headby a shop owner “broke my back,” Olmos says. “I almost ran over him with my car.” Early Friday morning, a broom became his weapon when he began sweeping L.A.’s streets. By 11 a.m., he was joined by 400 others who made their way up from Western and Adams pulling a dumpster. “The military didn’t shoot because we had brooms in our hands,” says Olmos. On the riots’ 20th anniversary, does Olmos think it could happen again? “With the Trayvon Martin situation and Wall Street corruption, with no one going to jail for the 2008 Ponzi scheme that took us down,” he says, “this creates incredible tension."