Henry Watson was part an event that provided some of the most violent images from the 1992 Los Angeles riots -- the beating of trucker Reginald Denny after the jury's verdict was announced in the Rodney King beating trial.
“After the verdict was read and it was not guilty, I mean it was just shock and disbelief,” Watson told NBC4. “I mean it was a slap in the face. It was like, 'Wow.'”
The shock quickly turned to anger, with images of violence playing out on live television. It was a moment for which community leaders had planned, but were not prepared to deal with.
At the time, Joe Hicks was the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“Once that cork gets pulled out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in,” Hicks said. “So me standing on a corner saying, ‘Hey, put that couch down brother’ and ‘don’t light a fire in that shop’ wasn’t going to happen because at that point, other forces had clearly taken over.”
Those forces were in play at the intersection of Florence and Normandie. It was there that Watson and truck driver Reginald Denny crossed paths.
“It’s amazing and mind blowing that I was a part of it,” Watson said.
Denny was brutally beaten. Watson, who stomped on Denny’s head then held it down with his foot, said Denny represented one thing.
“White America, white America,” said Watson. “Mr. Denny, nor any other victims in that intersection meant anything. Their arrival in that intersection was something that happened.”
Watson said there were a host of incidents leading to the explosion of anger that evening -- the treatment of African Americans by the LAPD; the shooting death of Latasha Harlins, an African American teenager by a Korean store clerk; and then the King beating verdict.
“I was upset that, you know, you can’t keep killing black people,” said Watson. “How much do you think we’re going to take? You know, you can’t keep doing that.
“Enough is enough. And you know, history has a tendency to repeat itself, you understand? So it’s boiling. It’s hot right now with the issue in Florida, the issue in Pasadena, the issue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You can’t keep killing black folks. We’re not going to allow it.”
These days, Watson is unapologetically angry in a balancing act between the present and the past.
“You know when I see those images and I see all that stuff from April 29th, I’m amazed,” said Watson. “I can’t believe it, and that’s me. And I still have problems coming to terms with it and dealing with it. It’s like hey, but it’s part of my past and there’s nothing I can do about it.”