With our lease up for renewal at the end of May 1992, my roommate had decided to move in with his boyfriend and take a new apartment. Although I didn't want another roommate situation, I couldn't afford to keep the apartment on my own, so I decided to look for a new apartment. On April 29, a Wednesday, I left work at 4:00 to see two apartments, one a garden apartment on Christopher St., the other a small one-bedroom in the Sheridan Square area of Greenwich Village, both a few short blocks from where I lived. Largely because of the amount of light it got (it was on the top floor), I decided to take the second apartment (where I still live).
After seeing the apartments I got a haircut and then arrived home shortly before 6:00. I switched on the evening news and heard the breaking story that the LAPD officers involved in last year's Rodney King beating had been acquitted. The verdict was met with frightening fury by Los Angeles' black community and rioting began shortly thereafter.
Later that evening a news-copter showed a truck driver being pulled from the cab of his semi at an intersection in South Central LA. He was kicked repeatedly in the head and bashed with a cinder block. Like the beating of King, this video clip was aired endlessly. Two days later an overwrought Rodney King addressed the media and delivered one of the decade's most quotable lines, "Can't we all just get along?"
Two days later, a Friday, I signed my new lease before going to work. Then later in the day as I was walking back to work after lunch it seemed that everyone from my office (ad agency NW Ayer, located on West 50th St. at Worldwide Plaza) was walking in the opposite direction. It turned out the office (like many others) had closed early because of wild stories of looting and transit disruptions.
These rumors turned out to be untrue (e.g., Macy's was being looted, the Brooklyn Bridge had been blocked by rioters), but since no one knew it at the time, my commute home on the subway was made with trepidation as riders wondered what might be occurring above ground. Indeed, some of the stores in my neighborhood were closed and a few had boarded up their windows.
Later that afternoon I was curious to see if there had been any further problems in my neighborhood so I went for a run but found nothing out of the ordinary except for a larger police presence. That night President Bush addressed the nation to assess the situation and assure viewers that calm would prevail and justice served.
The inconvenience suffered by New Yorkers on that day paled by comparison to Angelenos who struggled through nearly a week of unrest. More than 50 persons were killed, thousands were injured or jailed and property damage was close to $1 billion. Since the turmoil threatened to spread to affluent neighborhoods, some residents there stood on rooftops with guns. Sporting events were cancelled, freeway and air traffic was disrupted and restricted. It was the worst rioting in the U.S. since the assassination of Martin Luther King 24 years earlier.
This unrest coincided with the final episode of the Cosby Show on Thursday. NBC considered postponing the telecast until the following week, but Cosby was against the idea because he felt airing it as scheduled would maintain a semblance of normalcy. (He asked NBC if he could address viewers in Los Angeles to plead for calm.) The episode posted a 28 household rating/45 share (nearly double its season average), making it the 6th highest rated telecast of the 1991/92 season.