PALMDALE – April 29th marked the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, six days of racially-charged violence, looting and fire that ignited when a jury acquitted four police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
From April 29 to May 4, 1992, thousands stormed the streets of South Central Los Angeles, beating and killing at random, and literally setting the city on fire. When the smoke cleared, 63 people were dead, and more than 2,000 people were injured, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Among the critically injured was Carl Hall, who works at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. On the second day of the LA Riots, Hall was shot four times throughout his body and left for dead on a Crenshaw sidewalk as chaos raged around him. The immediate aftermath of the experience left Hall with an intense fear of African Americans. However, the past two decades have brought a new perspective to the aerospace engineer, who says he has forgiven his attacker and overcome his fears.
“I feel triumph about where I am right now,” Hall said. “I came through this not too terribly disturbed, and I’m not prejudiced, as some might think I should be.”
Hall still vividly remembers the sequence of events that led up to the shooting. Hall said on the first day of the riots — April 29, 1992 – he was at work when he caught a live newscast that showed Reginald Denny being pulled out of his truck in South Central and beaten to a bloody pulp by a group of thugs.
“It looked like a movie or a bad commercial,” he said. Hall worked in Hawthorne and lived in Downey at the time, and he had to drive through a bad part of Los Angeles to get to and from work each day. Hall made it home safely on the first day of the riots, and said he spent most of the night glued to the television watching the riots unfold.
On day two of the riots, Hall said his wife tried to discourage him from going to work, but he shrugged it off. On his way home from work, he stopped off on Crenshaw Blvd.
“I thought maybe I better go to the credit union and get some money before I go home because I might have to stay home the next day because of the riots,” Hall said. His credit union was closed, so Hall headed back across the street to where his car was parked.
“I was probably the last person in a group of people crossing the street to get to the parking lot when I saw a verbal altercation going on between two cars,” Hall said. “A black guy was hanging halfway out the passenger window yelling at a heavyset black lady in a Cadillac, just berating her.”
Hall said he made eye contact with the irate man, inexplicably setting the man off.
“He yelled out, specifically to me, ‘all you white motherfu—-s are gonna die!’” Hall said. He said he ignored the man and continued crossing the street, but before he could get to the sidewalk, he heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire.
“I felt something in my left leg, like a searing hot paper clip,” Hall said. “Another bullet went through and came out my other thigh… and as I was looking down seeing what’s going on, a bullet came from my back, underneath my shoulder blade, out of my chest… I actually saw the bullet coming out of my chest and splattering through my shirt.”
Hall said that bullet just missed his heart. Another bullet grazed his testicle (though he didn’t know it at the time). After taking the four bullets, Hall crumpled to the ground and commanded himself not to panic. He saw a security guard across the street and tried to get his attention.
“I was trying to yell out ‘somebody help me! I’ve been hit!’ and I said it about three times, but nobody could hear it,” Hall said. He said he sat against the curb, his shirt soaking in blood, and prepared to die. Then the heavyset black lady, who had been arguing with the man earlier, suddenly made a u-turn and headed his way, Hall said.
“I’m thinking this is racial deal and she’s gonna finish me off,” Hall said. “I closed my eyes just waiting for her to run her car over me.”
Instead, the lady jumped out her car and began yelling at people to help him, Hall said. He said the lady ripped off his tie to use as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
“Unbeknownst to her, she was actually cutting off the circulation right on my wound,” he said. “It hurt so bad, but she didn’t realize it. She was trying to do the best she possibly could.”
Hall said he closed his eyes in fear the whole time the lady was helping him.
“In retrospect she was like an angel to me,” Hall said. “I don’t even know her name or anything, I just remember she was a heavyset black lady. You have to remember, it was race-oriented at this point, so I thought all the black people were trying to kill me.”
Hall assumes his “angel” contacted emergency services, and eventually paramedics came to scene and began to work on him. He said, soon after, he was airlifted to a nearby hospital. He said he opened his eyes en route to the hospital just long enough to see that a black pilot was commanding the helicopter.
“I thought to myself, I’m actually going to die,” he said. “I started saying prayers.”
He said he was safely taken to the trauma center at Harvard UCLA in Carson, and immediately went into surgery. He was in the trauma center for two days, and then in the hospital for another three days.
Hall said he was released on May 5, 1992, but his recovery was far from over. He said he underwent physical therapy for a year and a half and saw a psychologist to deal with his mental anguish.
“I was paranoid,” Hall said. “Every time I saw a black person I thought they were going to finish me off.”
He said the terror lasted for about five years following the shooting. Then gradually, he began to work through it with the support of his family and friends.
Today, Hall still has some of the physical reminders of April 30, 1992. A bullet remains lodged in his left leg, because it would cause too much trauma to remove it. Two spots on his right leg mark where the bullet entered and exited. And he’s scarred from his mid bicep up to his heart.
For Hall, his mental scars have all but healed. He said he has not only overcome his anxiety of black people, but he has forged many strong friendships. In fact, Hall said if he were to meet his shooter today, he would forgive him.
“I feel triumph about where I am right now,” Hall said.
Good friend and coworker, Johnathon Ervin, said he only recently found out about Hall’s story.
“Everybody knew where they were at the time [of the LA Riots],” Ervin said. “But to know that he had such a personal and life changing role in it, it really surprised me.”
Ervin said, given Hall’s demeanor today, he never would have known that his coworker was once fearful of black people.
“Carl is a kind, thoughtful, positive guy,” Ervin said. “You would never know that he’s had this type of personal struggle based on his optimistic attitude… I think that’s testament to what type of character he has.”
Hall credits his mental recovery to his Christian upbringing.
“I think I’m a survivor,” he said. “I’ve come a long way with the support of family and friends.”