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Stanford course addresses King verdict, riots of '92, '65

STANFORD - What really happened in the courtroom during the Rodney King beating trial of 1992? What was behind the subsequent rioting in South Central Los Angeles, and how did those riots compare to the infamous Watts riots of 1965?

Those are among the questions being addressed this quarter by students in a new Stanford University course, "The Fire this Time: Los Angeles Riots 1965 and 1992 - Why?"

Taught by Sally Dickson, associate dean of student affairs and lecturer at the Stanford Law School, the three-unit course goes beyond the headlines to examine the political, economic and social conditions that led to the riots, and the role race still plays in America's criminal justice system.

The course was conceived by Dickson last year, during the emotional days that followed the announcement of not guilty verdicts for the white police officers accused of beating King.

"The beating verdict and response by communities of color were defining moments in American history that speak to a lot of underlying issues about what's going on in this country," said Dickson, who has served for the past two years as resident fellow in Ujamaa, the university's African American theme house.

"So many students were bewildered and frustrated after the verdict, I felt it would be useful to have a course that would help these students try to analyze what happened."

Dickson initially thought that the course would be a small seminar. As it turned out, 140 students signed up - a third of them non-black. They gather for the course each Monday night, in the Ujamaa lounge.

Classes so far have focused on videotaped testimony from the 1992 trial. Students have read news accounts and official reports on the trial and riots, as well as excerpts from former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates' book, Chief: My Life in the LAPD.

Future reading assignments will include Jewelle Taylor Gibbs' Young, Black and Male in America: An Endangered Species, Douglas Glasgow's The Black Underclass, and parts of Above the Law by Jerome Skolnick and James Fyfe.

Lydia Jones, a senior from Midlothian, Va., said she took the course "to hear other ideas regarding the trial and verdict, and to understand why the verdict came out as it did."

"It's been a great course," added Jones, an African American. "There's a lot of free discussion and free exchange of ideas."

In addition to looking back at the 1965 and 1992 riots, Dickson and her students are keeping close tabs on the ongoing federal trial of the police officers involved in the King case, and will spend an entire class session discussing it when the verdict comes down.

The course is offered as part of Stanford's annual St. Clair Drake Seminar series. Drake, a Stanford anthropologist who died in 1990, gained a worldwide reputation for his first-hand research on African and African-derived peoples.



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