Two brothers recall LA riots 20 years later

(CBS News) Twenty years ago this weekend, parts of Los Angeles erupted in violence in bloodshed after the not guilty verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial.

For six long days and nights starting on April 29th, 1992 Los Angeles was a war zone. Fifty-five people died, 2,300 were injured and property damage was estimated at a billion dollars.

A grainy video shot almost a year earlier showed white police officers brutally beating King, a black motorist. When the white policemen charged in the King beating were acquitted, South Central Los Angeles exploded.

Tim Goldman and his half-brother Terry Ellis became accidental witnesses to history when they recorded the violence at the intersection of Florence and Normandie on their video cameras.

Their cameras were rolling as a local preacher prayed over one man severely beaten by the rioters. They captured the first brick being thrown into the window of truck driver Reginald Denny. Then Denny was pulled from his cab and beaten. He suffered more than 90 skull fractures.

"All of a sudden, it was transformed into a war zone. That's what it looked like to me." Goldman said. "Everything that happened in the riots happened at that intersection. You had the looting, you had the arson, you had the beatings, you had shootings."

Goldman and Ellis were as close as two brothers could be growing up. But then Goldman went into the Air Force. And Ellis went into prison serving two and a half years for drug offenses. The day of the riots they headed down different paths again. As Goldman was shooting video, he caught his brother on tape, running into a liquor store to join in the looting himself.

The tension got even worse after authorities confiscated the videos. Under subpoena, Goldman testified against his neighbors. "I was worried about the safety of my family," Goldman said. "There were threats, you know. I knew that what I did, surrendering the tapes, or even taping the tapes, was the cause of the threats."

Goldman fled LA for Florida where he has lived ever since. He and Ellis recently returned together to the corner of Florence and Normandie. Goldman's happy he can return to a neighborhood and a brother changed enough to welcome him back.

Ellis says he barely recognizes the man he was twenty years ago. He credits his transformation to coming back to the church where he now serves as an usher. Today he is able to see a brighter future for himself and his family. One of his daughters sings in the youth choir. Another just won a full scholarship to USC and hopes to be a judge.

"Man, it's beautiful," Ellis said. "My heart is overwhelmed."

"He's got a big heart," Goldman said. "He's kind. He's gentle. You know, he'll help you out. Those are the qualities I see in him now."

Twenty years later the images these brothers captured still define one of LA's most painful days. But for them and many others in this community their own divisions no longer define their lives.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.