L.A. Riots: Tim Goldman Revisits His Footage Of The Destruction
This story is part of a special Neon Tommy series revisiting the upheaval 20 years ago surrounding the Rodney King trial. See more of our anniversary coverage here.
Armed with a camera, Goldman began to shoot the riot that unfolded around him—unrest sparked by the footage of another amateur photographer a few months prior.
He remembers one car getting away.
"There was this one car full of white nuns," said Goldman. "They [the rioters] let them through."
Now 53, Goldman said he hopes never to experience such violence again.
"I never want to see another race riot," he said.
Yet Goldman, who moved to Tampa, Florida in the years following the riots because he couldn't "live in Los Angeles anymore," said that history is repeating itself—this time, in Sanford, Fla.
“The Trayvon Martin case is the next Rodney King case, but this time we have a death,” Goldman mused.
“We have a highly racial incident," he continued. "Our country is divided on racial lines, we’ve got high unemployment, and it’s an election year.”
Goldman had choice words for anyone looking to riot if the Trayvon Martin case were to go awry.
"I want you to see what happened 20 years ago," he said, "and to not repeat what happened."
Goldman, who had grown up in East Los Angeles before moving to South Central as a teenager, saw similar social unrest play out in the streets of Los Angeles as a kid.
“I can remember the tanks going down Compton Boulevard in 1965 during the Watts Riots,” he recounted. "At the time, I didn’t really understand the significance of what I saw until years later."
On April 29, 1992, Goldman once again saw civic disorder unfold in the streets of Los Angeles. This time however, the 33-year-old airline worker had three cameras, his brother, a friend and a police scanner at his disposal. He rallied his buddies and eventually ended up at the intersection of Florence and Normandie—front-row seats to what he had thought at the time was only a snippet of broader commotion in the city.
Little did Goldman know that he would come to tape the worst of the L.A. riots.
“I thought that the police had rushed over to the most critical intersection in the city,” said Goldman.
It was only when a reporter for The Daily Trojan—a student-run newspaper at the University of Southern California—had asked him if he had been at the intersection of Florence and Normandie during the riots that Goldman realized there hadn't been a more “critical intersection” for LAPD to address that day.
Goldman recalled that a chance malfunction had kept him from recording over the video he had shot of Florence and Normandie.
“Day two and day three—when all the looting took place in broad daylight—I was going to record over what I had recorded the day before,” he confessed. "Instead, my camera broke."
If his camera hadn’t given in, Goldman would have erased indicting footage of what many considered to be the “flashpoint” of the entire incident -- the beatings of Reginald Denny, Fidel Lopez, and others who had been pulled out of their cars by an angry mob gathered at the now infamous intersection located in South Central Los Angeles.
Rather, Goldman kept the footage. Police would later use it to convict four individuals caught in the act of nearly killing Denny and Lopez. News helicopters had televised the beatings from a distance; Goldman’s video had caught the perpetrators' faces.
"When they [the rioters] broke into Tom's Liquor store, then all the attacks became really brutal," he recalled. "It was a free-for-all."
Goldman recalled seeing most of the attacks that garnered notoriety that day—on Lopez, New York Times photographer Bart Bartholomew, and others trying to drive through the intersection.
Yet despite obtaining footage of the Reginald Denny beating, he said that he never actually saw the Denny attack.
"Here’s another thing most people don’t know: although I released footage of the Reginald Denny beating, I never actually saw the Denny attack until I saw it on TV," said Goldman, who had been standing on the other side of Denny's truck when the beatings occurred. "My brother recorded the Denny attack."
Goldman explained that his brother and his friend signed off the rights to the footage to him after telling him they wanted nothing to do with the video.
Yet more good than harm came out of the tape. Goldman's footage was evidence to the authorities that the rioters caught on camera were guilty, just as George Holliday's tape of the Rodney King beating had proven to the public that the authorities caught on camera were guilty of the same kind of violence.
"I can remember one of the elder members of our community saying, 'Don’t be surprised if nothing happens to those officers,'" said Goldman. He said that people around him didn't take the man's words seriously because they had thought the tape was proof enough for a conviction.
While many consider the verdict of the Rodney King as the tipping point for the riots, Goldman said that issues of police brutality against non-whites were nothing new.
“Hispanics and Blacks in Los Angeles will tell you that this [instances of police violence] happens all the time,” said Goldman. “The difference with Rodney King is that it was recorded on camera.”
Something Goldman rarely talks about: a run-in with the cops when he was a kid after he had pulled a fire alarm at the intersection of MLK and Figueroa.
“A plain-clothed cop put this gun up to the back of my head and told me that if I moved he would blow my head off,” Goldman said. “He told me that if anyone was going to get hurt, I would go to jail for a long time.”
“Of course I believed him at the time,” he continued.
The detectives told his mother that if he behaved until he was 18, the incident would only amount to a “speck on his record.”
“Of course this never even showed up on my record when I applied to the military,” he continued.
Decades later, Goldman would watch the news in Birmingham, Ala., and witness a 25-year-old King undergo similar treatment by the LAPD.
“When I saw the KTLA logo, I realized: this is Los Angeles,” he said.
He had returned to Los Angeles for a job interview when the riots broke out. After the quiet settled, Goldman found himself in possession of footage that showed the “big, bad LAPD”—a police force with a track record of terrorizing non-whites -- in a much different light.
“I had never seen so much fear in the eyes of the LAPD,” said Goldman. “The LAPD, probably the toughest police force in the world – the expression on their faces was priceless.”
With such powerful footage, Goldman leased his video to local and national news stations. He made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey show and the Maury Povich show alongside Holliday.
Yet slowly, Goldman began to realized that publicity wasn’t necessarily a good thing. With the possibility of reprisal from both rioters who had beaten innocent bystanders and LAPD officers who had deserted the intersection, he and his family first went into hiding and, in the ensuing years, moved out of the city.
"I moved to Tampa because I didn't want to go home and have to answer a lot of questions," Goldman explained. "I didn't want to go to South Central and have people say, 'Hey, you're Tim Goldman...'"
After his appearance on Oprah, Goldman vowed never to talk to the media again.
“As far as talking with the media, I rarely talk about it,” said Goldman. “Everyone’s always been asking me if they could fly me out to Los Angeles and interview me at the intersection, and I’ve always said no.”
Nineteen years later, Goldman is breaking his silence.
"I just got asked to do an interview with CBS at Florence and Normandie, and I think this time I might do it," he said.
Yet for Goldman, history repeats itself. He chose to do one of his first interviews with USC.
"How ironic that the first interview I ever did regarding the videotaping of the Los Angeles Riots was with the Daily Trojan with Gregory Sandoval," he wrote in an e-mail after agreeing to do the interview.
"This would be great closure for myself."