Rodney King case starts a ratings war: The racially charged trial is a nice little earner for some, writes Phil Reeves in Los Angeles

SERGEANT Stacey Koon looked a little uncomfortable as we rode up and down trying to reach a floor in the federal court building at which the lift refused to stop. No, he said, he would not speak to a British journalist. He had a contract with a US television network.

Only moments earlier a jury of eight men and four women had retired to discuss not only his fate, but the outcome of a trial that is widely seen both as a crucial test of the US judicial system's treatment of blacks and police conduct. The judge's closing plea that they should not be influenced 'by any external consequences' - their fear, for instance, that their verdicts will trigger a repeat of last year's riots - was still ringing in their ears.

For a man caught so unpleasantly in history's spotlight, Mr Koon looked surprisingly pleased with himself. 'None of us will be saying anything. You won't hear a word from us,' he said in his light, slightly lisping voice. 'We have all signed contracts.' So even the four men cast in the role of villain, the policemen who face the prospect of up to 10 years in jail if found guilty of violating Rodney King's civil rights, are cashing in.

To be fair, the officers, who face big legal bills, are far from the only ones. Mr King, whose beating by the police comprises one of the world's most famous television clips, has a film contract, and is kept under guard while his attorney prepares a multi- million dollar civil damages claim against Los Angeles city. His aunt has been cranking out T-shirts, and is planning a book. Daryl Gates, the former police chief of Los Angeles, has published his memoirs. Mr Koon has also published a book, a draft of which almost landed him in severe trouble because it contained racially insensitive material.

Several of the defence lawyers have made the most of the publicity surrounding the trial, spouting carefully tailored soundbites to the clutter of cameras outside the court. At times, these have got out of hand: one lawyer, Harland Braun, called the US federal prosecutors 'scum', describing one as 'an SS officer for the civil rights division'. During his closing argument Mr Braun (mindful of the Easter season) compared his client, Officer Theodore Briseno, to Christ being condemned by Pontius Pilate.

And the television media have stepped up their ratings war, cranking up fears of further riots in Los Angeles by repeatedly replaying riot footage. For weeks, news bulletins have also featured staged pictures of baton- wielding policemen charging around, carrying out riot-training. There have been countless appearances by police and politicians, anxious to avoid being accused of being unprepared and desperate to end criticism of their lamentable performance during last year's unrest.

Even in south-central Los Angeles, riot forecasting has become a minor industry in which black youths charge reporters dollars 5 ( pounds 3) in return for a dire prediction of trouble.

Los Angeles is frightened, divided, and more heavily armed than ever before. As the city began its vigil, awaiting the jury's verdict, community workers went door-to-door urging calm. Several peace marches were held. The police department went on to a heightened state of readiness, preparing to deploy thousands of officers on the streets as the verdict is announced. Today 600 National Guard troops will go on duty in the city, ready go into action if trouble erupts.

But the prophets of unrest overlook the differences between Los Angeles a year ago and now. The riots partly erupted because of the stunning surprise of the officers' acquittals; that element of shock is no longer present.

A poll by the Los Angeles Times published yesterday found the majority of the city's residents were calm and, although fearful of another riot, did not believe violence was inevitable. Half of those questioned said there was a greater danger of trouble being incited by the overreaction of the police.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk