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Eight minutes that changed the world

This week is fifteen years since George Holliday bought a new camcorder. It triggered the biggest riots in US history.


[rodney king case] On March 3, 1991 in Los Angeles, Argentine George Holliday woke up by sirens. He picked up his newly purchased Sony camcorder and went out onto the balcony. A black man had been stopped in traffic control and was now being abused by four policemen. Fifteen years later, Holliday says he thought, "What did this man do to deserve such a beating?"

Today, many believe that Holliday should never leave the bed. By then, perhaps 54 people had not been killed, 2383 had been injured and over 12.000 had been arrested.

50 clubs

Holliday's video recording became one of history's most famous eight minutes. The movie shows Rodney King being awarded more than 50 bullets, at least seven kicks and an electric shock from a so-called "stun gun". King, a black 25-year-old with a criminal past, was chased by police through the streets of Los Angeles for crude driving. When he gave up the escape, he was surrounded by a dozen policemen.

The medical report after the abuse showed that King had nine brain shocks, concussions, a damaged eyelid and a broken jawbone, leg fractures, both knee injuries and partial facial paralysis.

"What did this man do to deserve such a beating?"

George Holliday

Six days after Holliday went out on the balcony, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates announced that three police officers had been charged with criminal assault. Police Chief Gates was already controversial in the African-American population, having previously stated, among other things, that "blacks are more easily harmed by police raids than normal people."

A little over a year later, the shocking news came: A jury consisting exclusively of whites acquitted the four police officers who were accused of beating King. Authorities had decided to move the trial from Los Angeles to the Simi Valley suburb. The suburb was almost exclusively white, and was the California state with the highest proportion of police officers – especially from Los Angeles – in the population.

New video game

The rage did not wait. On the same evening as the acquittal became known, the state of emergency was declared in the city. Violence and fires made Los Angeles a battlefield. The riots began in South Central Los Angeles, not far from Watts, where the famous Watts riots began in 1965. A new video footage entered the scene: White trailer driver Reginald Denny gets stopped, pulled out of the truck, robbed and gets the shell knocked out with fire extinguishers of furious youth.

The following day, US President George Bush ordered four thousand soldiers from the army and a thousand federal policemen to Los Angeles. On the same day, one of the jurors managed to pour gasoline on the fire by stating that "Rodney King himself was responsible for what happened". The following day, the rebellion spread to a number of other American cities.

"Los Angeles is a city at war, a fiery battlefield sacrificed on the altar of racial hatred. Experienced war journalists say that the movie city has become the United States of Beirut, or as chaotic as El Salvador a few years ago, ”a shocked Norwegian journalist reported back the same day.

The day after, the flames died out. But not the rage. The following year, two of the four accused police officers were found guilty by a new jury. This time it also had black members.

Picture as proof

At lunchtime on Wednesday, May 28, 2003, soldier Gary Bartlam walked into the local photography store Max Spielman in the hometown of Tamworth in Staffordshire, north of Birmingham. The soldier handed over a film roll of 15 pictures to Emma Louise Blackie, requesting that it be developed within one hour. She was about to take a lunch break and handed the movie to two colleagues.

When she returned from lunch, her colleagues immediately told her something was seriously wrong. The pictures she saw showed two Iraqis simulating anal sex while holding their thumbs up. In another photo, one sits on his knee and has the head in the lap of another man, as if he were performing oral sex. After seeing this, Blackie called the police. Upon returning, the soldier was told that the development was somewhat delayed.

Shortly afterwards, Bartlam was arrested by two police officers. The ensuing interrogation led to a series of arrests under the auspices of the Army's Special Investigation Branch. The findings led to three soldiers being produced for a court-martial in Germany on Tuesday, while Bartlam was convicted last week for a number of matters related to episodes in the photos.

Trivial Pursuit

For George Holliday was not the first or the last amateur photographer to change the world. The most famous pictures from September 11, 2001 were taken by amateur photographers and will forever affect our image of the disaster.

But what happened to George Holliday after he gave his eight-minute video to broadcaster KTLA?

Prior to getting up that night, Holliday was a married man and manager of a large plumbing company. Today he is twice divorced and barely makes ends meet.

In addition, he received a few thousand dollars for giving rights to the shooting to film directors, a diploma from the police in Los Angeles and his own name on a Trivial Pursuit card – unfortunately misspelled as "Halliday".

But when the Los Angeles Times spoke to him two weeks ago, he wouldn't blame anyone. Although Holliday was shocked by what he saw through the camcorder fifteen years ago, he did not want to give Los Angeles police bad reputation. After all, his grandfather was a "bobby" in London.

- My film puts the police in a bad light, but every time a policeman recognizes me, they tell me that I did what was right, he says.

This year, Argentine George Holliday will become a US citizen. And he will be releasing his video on DVD. The plan is to sell it on a friend's website until they find a distributor. He hopes the DVD can be used by teachers and students who don't know a thing about the Rodney King case.

For Rodney King, things didn't go so well either. Four years ago, King had spent $ 3,8 million in compensation, marking the XNUMXth anniversary of America's worst riots at a rehabilitation center. Five months ago, he was arrested again, this time on suspicion of murder threats against his daughter and ex-girlfriend.

The amateur video revolution

1963: The killing of John F. Kennedy

On November 22, Dallas, Texas, amateur photographer Zarpruder, with his eight-millimeter camera, captured the only known film of the John F. Kennedy murder. photo: ap / scanpix

1987: Behind the prison walls

Human rights activists are beginning to use the handheld camcorders in their work. Among other things, the Human Rights Committee in El Salvador used video to reveal the horrific conditions at Mariona prison. Through the videos, the inmates were able to show examples of torture.

1991: Rodney King case

George Holliday films the police abuse of Rodney King. The eight-minute video leads to the big riots in Los Angeles the following year.

1993: The siege in Waco, Texas

Cult leader David Koresh sends two video messages to the FBI days before a fire destroys the house where the cult lives and kills over 80 people. The video shows Koresh, wounded by a gunshot, explaining his faith as he bids his children to say goodbye to this world. Parts of the film are shown worldwide.

1995: Killed at Yitzhak Rabin

Amateur photographer Ronni Kempler films the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Kempler stood on a rooftop with an overview of the area where Rabin was killed. Israeli television broadcast the video showing the entire course of the killing.

1996: Prohibitors of War

The War Criminal Court in The Hague uses several amateur film footage as they launch the trial against war criminals from the former Yugoslavia. The video footage is crucial when, among other things, Serbian general Radislav Krstic is convicted of the massacre of over 7000 men and boys in Screbrenica. He was convicted in 2001.

1997: Hale-Bopp suicide cult

A farewell video from the Heavens gate cult comes as a letter to a former member. As a result, they find 39 dead cult members. The film shows cult leader Marshall Applewhite explaining the plan to commit suicide so that they can leave their "material body" because they see the comet Hale-Bopp as a signal that it's time to leave the earth. photo: ap / scanpix

1998: From under the burka

Films recorded by the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) are raising awareness around the world about women's lack of rights in the country. Cruel images of executions and mistreatment of women who violated the law of going public can be seen by millions of people around the world.

2001: September 11

Mark Heath documents that the World Trade Center is falling down around him. He seeks shelter behind a car while telling him he is watching the entire tower crash. You can hear him shouting "I hope I survive, I hope I survive, I hope I survive". Something he does.

2003-2006: Torture in Iraq

The British and American torture scandals in Iraq are all based on amateur photographs taken by the soldiers. photo: ap / scanpix

2004: Tsunamis

The disaster that hit the Indian Ocean countries on December 26 was pinned to film by a large number of camcorders, especially by the many tourists in Thailand.

2005: Bombs on Bali

An amateur video captures suicide bombers on their way to a resturant. Seconds later, we see a powerful explosion, and guests fleeing in panic. photo: ap / scanpix


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