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
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
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

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam