Shortly before 1 a.m. on Sunday, March 3, 1991, 25 years ago, the squeal of sirens and the buzz of helicopters woke George Holliday, the 31-year-old owner of a small plumbing company, living in suburban Lakeview Terrace in the San Fernando Valley, within Los Angeles. From his terrace, he saw Los Angeles police officers beating a big black man. Grabbing his new Sony camcorder out of its original packaging, he taped the incident.
“Something happens between the weddings and the birthday parties—it’s called the rest of your life,” Sony’s commercial for the nifty new technology proclaimed. “That’s why we created America’s most popular camcorder, the Handycam.” Indeed, Holliday would say he bought the camera for “home stuff.” During the ’90s, America was becoming Surveillance Central, the most photographed nation ever, thanks to proliferating personal devices and institutional security cameras. Today, we are all George Holliday, armed with digital cameras embedded in our cell phones, ready to videotape history, not just “the rest of your life”—and post it widely.
By Monday morning, Holliday submitted to KTLA-TV what is arguably the most famous home movie since the Zapruder film.