Many who experienced the Los Angeles riots said the whole ordeal came as a complete shock to them. But Bob Tur wasn't surprised at all. In fact, in his work for Los Angeles News Service, the distributor of local news footage and coverage which he owns, he had spoken to gang members, clergy, and residents who all made it clear that if a not guilty verdict was returned in the Rodney King beating trial, violence would erupt.
Still, nothing could prepare him for what he saw from his news copter that day as he hovered over the corner of Florence and Normandie. There, below him, he caught the horrifying image of a group of residents attacking and nearly killing trucker Reginald Denny.
"I immediately knew after seeing what was going on that we had captured a piece of history," says Tur 15 years later. "Now, it was small part of what happened, but these were the very first attacks and in many ways the catalysts for widespread looting."
Broadcasting the images for the world to see as they happened turned out to be a double-edged sword for Tur. Some say the footage inspired copycat attacks, but it also arguably prevented some incidents; Normandie is a major thoroughfare on the way to downtown, and no doubt because of the broadcast, people were able to avoid coming into harm's way.
"Many people thanked us for having saved their lives," says Tur, who went on to capture the infamous police chase involving O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings and won several awards for his breaking news coverage, including two television news Emmys. Tur said he is now developing a show for MSNBC called Why They Run, scheduled to premiere in May, which interviews suspects in high speed chases.
Along with the professional success, the Denny recording also brought Tur some legal headaches. In the aftermath of the riots, he found himself in court fighting over his copyright on the footage; media outlets around the world had re-broadcast the Denny attack countless times without his permission, copying it from his original broadcast on the stations with which he had licensing deals. After years of litigation, Tur won the exclusive rights to the tape and millions of dollars in damages.
Looking back, Tur would just as soon forget the unforgettable footage of Denny's attack. If he had to do it all over again, he says he would not film the riot. "The human cost was awful," he said.
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