Reginald Denny became an unintentional central figure in the 1992 Los Angeles riots when he was pulled from his truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie and beaten nearly to death. Four rioters, who came to be known as the LA-4, repeatedly pounded Denny.
One of them hurled a brick at his head. The images of Denny staggering on his knees drenched in his own blood were broadcast live, but Denny was then saved by four Good Samaritans who drove him to the hospital.
Denny has since lived a private life -- rarely seen in public over the last two decades. NBC conducted one of the last known interviews with Denny in 2002.
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The quotes in the remainder of this article come from that interview and reflect Denny’s candor on a wide range of subjects, including race and the accountability of law enforcement and public officials.
During the hour-long conversation, Denny was generally upbeat and talkative. At only one point was he at a loss for words -- when struggling to express his appreciation for 27,000 get-well cards he received while recovering from the beating.
“So much kindness, I couldn’t believe it,” Denny said of the cards.
Denny had saved each and every card, and vowed to carry them to his grave.
“Someone else is going to have to throw them away,” he said. “Because I will not.”
Though racial tension in Los Angeles was a recurring theme in the coverage of the riots, Denny said that the people who sent him the letters were not concerned with race.
“They didn’t care. I didn’t care. And what was really cool is when I got blood in the hospital," Denny said. "Did anyone check to see what color that blood was? Probably red.”
Seven years after the riots, Denny moved from California. He enjoys living near the water, and at the time of the 2002 interview was working as a boat mechanic. He now works for an industrial supply store.
Denny said he still thought of the riots every day, and was grateful to be alive.
“Every day usually starts out as a cool deal,” he said. “I am going, 'Yahoo, I am here.'”
Throughout the interview, Denny was upbeat, repeatedly noting that many people suffer hardship.
Denny’s hardships include permanent nerve damage, impaired vision and a constant ringing in his ears.
2002 Reginald Denny Interview: Lasting Physical Effects of Beating
The beating also dealt a financial blow, making it impossible for him to continue in his job as a driver for Transit Mixed Concrete Co.
“I was reaching the top of what I did,” he said, “and it’s a nice ride. “
Denny said he understood that the rioters were angry.
“How bad do you have to jack up a neighborhood before the neighborhood just says enough?” he asked.
He had compassion for the “helplessness” and “disrespect” that the community felt leading up to the riot, saying, “it takes a lot of crap to happen before it stops happening.”
2002 Reginald Denny Interview: What Motivated the Violence
Although Denny was targeted because he is white, he said focusing on race in thinking about the riots is foolish and shortsighted.
“People seem to forget it was black folks that saved my life,” Denny said. “On one hand, there were some out there to try to kill me or do me in. On the other hand, they are trying to save me because I’m not the enemy, and believe me I am not the enemy.”
At the time of the interview 10 years ago, Denny had long since forgiven the men who assaulted him.
2002 Reginald Denny Interview: Revenge and the LA 4
He reserved his anger for the politicians and police, whom he said abandoned the city that day.
“Where they hell were they?” he asked. “They were just like, ‘I ain’t doing nothing.’”
2002 Reginald Denny Interview: Thoughts on Politicians
Ten years ago, Denny didn’t see much improvement in South LA . Reflecting on the riots, he concluded that they were fueled by “people in a city that the city gave up on.”
His hope was firmly with the people of LA.
"(They) weren’t gonna give up. Doesn’t that say something about character of the people that do live there? No matter how bad it gets, we ain’t giving up.”