Daily English
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340 Topics: Rodney King Trial and the 1992 Riots; Dick Tracy detective stories; third world; from versus out of; to pull (oneself) together versus to get a hold of (oneself)

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 340.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 340. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at eslpod.com. You can download a Learning Guide for this episode, an 8- to 10-page PDF guide we provide for all of our current episodes that will give you additional help in improving your English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous “trial,” a famous court case here in Los Angeles about a man named Rodney King and the problems that were associated with that trial. We’re also going to talk about a famous fictional detective named Dick Tracy. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café is all about “crime” – when you do something wrong, against the law – and “punishment” – when something bad happens to you because you did something wrong. We’re going to talk first about a very famous trial here in the City of Los Angeles. It was a trial, or a legal court case, against some police officers who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, what we more commonly call “LAPD.”

Here’s our story: On March 3rd, 1991, some police officers – some cops from LAPD – stopped a man who was speeding, who was driving too fast. After stopping him they eventually beat the man. To “beat” (beat) usually is when you win a game, when you defeat someone. But “beat” can also mean to hit someone very hard so that they are hurt, perhaps even killed. You may beat someone out of anger, when you’re very mad at someone.

The man who was beaten was named Rodney King. He had been driving a car with two of his friends, and as I mentioned, he was speeding; he was driving too quickly. The police began to chase the car, and King did not stop; he began driving even faster. Eventually they got the car, and when King got out of the car the officer said that he was behaving very strangely, and so they started to hit King. Later, they thought King was dangerous, and that’s why they said they continued to hit him, because he kept moving around. They had to take King to the hospital. They tested his blood and he had, in fact, been drinking, but had not taken any other drugs.

The beating, when they hit King, was recorded on video by someone who was there, what we would call a “bystander.” A “bystander” (bystander) is someone who happens to see something; they aren’t related to the event in any way, usually they don’t become involved. If you are just standing on the sidewalk – standing out on the street, and you see an accident you would be a bystander. You weren’t involved in the accident, but you happened to see it by chance.

Well, there was someone there who videotaped this beating that Rodney King had received from the police officers. It looked from the video – and you may have even seen the video if you are a little older – the video showed the police officers hitting Rodney King, using what many said was excessive force. “Excessive” (excessive) means too much of something. “Force” means strength or power. When the video was shown on television, people all over the United States and, in fact, around the world thought this was a terrible thing because King had been beaten not just with the fists – the hands of the police officers, but with a short stick called a “baton” (baton). In fact, he had been hit 56 times and kicked six times while he was lying on the ground. The public – the what we would call “general public,” the average person – became “outraged,” became very angry at this video. Many people thought that the man was beaten because he was black and the police officers were white – well, three of the police officers were white, one was Latino, or Hispanic.

The four police officers were arrested themselves and they where charged with using excessive force. When we say they were “charged,” we mean that they were brought to a courtroom, before a judge, and eventually there was a trial with a jury. A “jury” (jury) is a group of people who decide whether you are guilty or innocent in a courtroom. The trial should have been – normally would have been here in the City of Los Angeles. However, because a lot of people had seen the video there were some people who thought that the police officers could not get a fair trial, a trial where people would not be automatically biased against them. So the trial was moved up to the northern part of the Los Angeles area in a place called Simi Valley. The jury in Simi Valley did not have any African Americans on it; there were no blacks in the group. There were 10 whites, one Latino, and one Asian American.

The trial took place the following year in 1992, and the jury ended up acquitting the four police officers. “To acquit” (acquit) means they found them not guilty. At least that was their verdict – their decision about three of the four police officers, one of them they couldn’t reach a decision. People were angry at the jury’s decision. People who had seen the video thought it was obvious that the four police officers were guilty, that they had committed or had done a crime.

The reaction to the decision by the jury, the very day that it happened, was violence here in the City of Los Angeles, what we later called – actually, we started calling them immediately that – the Los Angeles Riots. A “riot” (riot) is a situation in which many people behave in a violent way: they start burning things, they start stealing things, they start killing people. The riots here in Los Angeles began the day of the verdict, and continued to grow over about a six-day period. Thousands of people were hurt; there were 53 people who were killed during the riots. There were more than 7,000 fires in the City of Los Angeles, especially in the southern part of the city, what we used to call South Central Los Angeles – we now just call it South Los Angeles. Many people became familiar with South Central Los Angeles throughout the United States. One man was taken from his car and beaten by a mob. A “mob” (mob) is a group of very angry and violent people.

I was living in Southern California during the time of the riots. I had just moved here about a year earlier – little less than a year – and I remember them very well. In fact, it was so bad that the police had declared a curfew – the government had declared a curfew. A “curfew” (curfew) is when people are told they cannot leave their houses during a certain time; in this case, it was at night. The riots continued for three days. Eventually the U.S. military was sent in to help keep the peace, “to restore order” we would say, because the police were not able to do so. It was really quite a terrible time in the history of Los Angeles, certainly the worst single event in the city’s history in the past 50 years. As I say, there was a lot of violence on television; it was on all of the time, you could see the riots taking place. I remember driving down one of the freeways the second or third day of this riot, and I remember seeing the smoke coming from the buildings that were burning because of the riots. It was a sad day in the history of our city.

After the riots ended, the U.S. federal government – the national government investigated the police officers, and they were tried again. They were brought before a judge for violating Rodney King’s civil rights. Your “civil rights” are basic rights that the federal government guarantees, says that you cannot take away certain civil rights, including the right not to be beaten by police officers. Two of the police officers were found guilty; two of them were acquitted. Rodney King received almost four million dollars from the City of Los Angeles because of this. He lost most of the money, unfortunately. He has been arrested 11 times since the beating. He currently lives in a city outside of Los Angeles. The four police officers were all either fired or quit their jobs at the Los Angeles Police Department.

Next let’s turn to another topic related to crime, but this time a fictional character, someone who is not real. The fictional character is called Dick Tracy, and most Americans in my generation will remember the name of Dick Tracy. He was a character in a comic strip, a story with colorful drawings and words. Comic strips usually appear in the newspaper, on what’s called the “comics page.” Well, Dick Tracy was a famous comic strip character. Dick Tracy was a police detective. A “detective” is someone who tries to solve crimes – to figure out who did the crime.

Dick Tracy’s comic strip was created by a man named Chester Gould. It first appeared in 1931 and continued until 1977. I remember seeing the Dick Tracy comic strip when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.

The comic strip showed, or depicted, Tracy working as he was fighting against villains. A “villain” (villain) is a bad person, an evil person. Dick Tracy would find these villains and arrest them. That’s what good police detectives do, at least in comic strips.

Dick Tracy became so popular that it was a radio program for – oh, let’s see – about 14 years, from 1934 until 1948. Remember in the middle of the 20th century, before television became popular in the 50s and 60s, there were a lot of radio dramas, and these were half-hour or sometimes hour-long radio shows that were just like television shows except it was all just voices. I remember listening to some of these old radio dramas. Again, when I was a child you could go to the library and get a record, those big, round, flat, black disks that came before CDs – and of course now we just have MP3s, like this podcast. But, when you could go to the library and get the old records, you could listen to these old radio programs. In fact, there were still a few radio programs on. I remember listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater every night when I was in junior high. But those are not very popular anymore; I’m not sure if they still have radio mysteries on the radio anymore. But Dick Tracy was a very popular radio show, and the stories were all, of course, about him finding the villains and arresting them.

There was a Dick Tracy movie in 1937, and there were several other Dick Tracy movies in the middle part of the 20th century. There was also a modern attempt to make a Dick Tracy movie; in 1990 there was a movie called Dick Tracy. It starred some very famous actors: Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman. It was directed by Warren Beatty, another famous actor. I believe Madonna was also in the movie, although I would not call her a famous actor – at least not a very good one!

The comic strip was also made into a television show, but it wasn’t very successful. There were some Dick Tracy “cartoons,” animated television shows for children that were popular when I was a child, in the 60s and 70s. There have been Dick Tracy comic books; there have been regular books written about Dick Tracy, with Dick Tracy as the character; and of course, nowadays, video games and toys.

Dick Tracy is one of the first famous American fictional detectives, one that was very popular, as I say, in the mid-20th century, and familiar to those of us of, shall we say, a certain age.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Seng Aung (Seng Aung) from Myanmar, what we used to call Burma in English. The question has to do with a phrase: “the third world.” What do we mean by “the third world” and “the first world”? You’ll often hear or see those terms, or at least you used to when talking about different countries around the world.

There are a couple of different definitions you may find of this term. The most common one that I know is to refer to parts of the world – countries – where people still don’t have a lot of education, where there are a lot of people who don’t have work, where the average person is somewhat poor, and there are perhaps governments that are not very stable – that change often. “The third world” refers to then, in general, poor countries. Many people now don’t like the term “third world,” they use other words to describe poor countries such as “the developing world” or “developing countries,” countries that are growing but are still not rich.

“The third world” was also used sometimes to talk about countries that did not become partners or allies with either the western powers, the United States and Western Europe, or the communist powers, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. I’m talking now during the middle to late part of the 20th century. So that’s “third world.”

“The second world” – which was never used all that often in talking about countries, but you will still find some reference to this in older books. “The second world” referred to the countries that were close to or part of the Soviet Union. “The first world” were capitalist countries: the United States, Western Europe, Japan, countries that were richer, countries that were more economically developed perhaps, and countries that were for the most part democratic.

After the end of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the end of communist governments in most parts of Eastern Europe, the terms “first world” and “third world” and “second world” became less popular. You won’t hear them as much anymore in the news. As I said before, if you are talking about what we used to call “third world countries” you’ll probably hear a term like “developing countries.”

Haruki (Haruki) in Japan wants to know the difference between “from” and “out of.” Let’s start with “from.” Like a lot of prepositions in English, there are many, many uses and meanings of “from.” I’ll just talk about a couple of them.

The word “from” can be used to show where something starts – a starting point. “I walked from my house to school.” I started at my house, that’s where I walked from. Or, “I’m going to take a book from the shelf and bring it here.” I’m going to start at the bookshelf and end wherever I am now.

“From” can be used to show the beginning of two different points. For example, “From first grade to fourth grade you often spend a lot of time learning how to read.” “From first grade,” that’s where we’re starting our conversation, that’s what we’re talking about in terms of a certain length of time. “From 1977 to 1981 I was a high school student.”

“From” can also be used to describe the cause of something or who made or what made something. “This note is from the teacher.” The teacher made it; the teacher created it.

“Out of” is usually used to show a person or a thing coming from a starting point that is inside of something else. So, “The boy was inside of the school. He came out of the school at three o’clock in the afternoon.” Or, “There are some cookies inside of this box. I’m going to takes some cookies out of the box.”

Another use of “out of” is to mean because of, when you’re giving the reason for your action – for why you are doing something. “I acted out of fear.” I did this because I was afraid. Or, “He made a mistake out of carelessness.” The reason he made a mistake is that he was careless; he wasn’t paying attention very closely.

If we were to compare “from” and “out of,” here are some differences we might find: If I say, “I walked from my house,” I mean something a little different when I say, “I walked out of my house.” When I say, “I walked out of my house,” I’m emphasizing the fact that now I am inside my house and I’m walking to the outside. When I say, “I walked from my house,” I’m not necessarily inside of my house, I could be outside of my house, but then I leave. So the emphasis is on the traveling away from my house.

“Out of” and “from” can also be used to indicate causes, but there’s, again, a difference. If I say, “I got sick from the food,” the idea is that it was some external thing, not something I could control. When talking about a cause, “out of” is usually something you can control. “I yelled at her,” or, “I shouted at her out of anger.” In another words, I could control my anger if I wanted to but I didn’t.

Finally, Luis (Luis) in Chile wants to know the difference between the expressions “to pull yourself together” and “to get a hold of yourself.” Both of these expressions mean basically the same thing; they mean to calm down, not to panic, not to worry and get angry or upset. For example you hear some very bad news, and you start crying and yelling and maybe hitting the wall and screaming. Someone may say, “Pull yourself together,” meaning calm down, control yourself, act rationally, act calmly. Or they could say, “Get a hold of yourself.” It would mean the same thing: calm down, don’t be upset. Both phrases, then, really mean the same thing.

The opposite is “to fall apart,” or, “to lose hold of yourself.” Both of these expressions would mean to panic, to get angry or upset.

If you don’t understand a word or expression, don’t panic. Don’t get upset, email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast's English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

to beat – to hit someone very hard many times, usually because one is angry

* The police arrested the man who beat his children while he was drunk.

bystander – someone who sees something happen, but does not become involved

* Jason tried to tell his mother that he was only a bystander when his sister made the mess in the kitchen.

excessive force – using too much strength or power, usually used to talk about police officers or soldiers doing physical harm to people while trying to capture them

* Did the police officers use excessive force when trying to arrest the violent drug addict?

baton – a short, heavy stick used by police officers

* Officer Kardenes didn’t think there would be anything dangerous in the alley, but she held her baton in one hand just in case.

outraged – very angry; feeling very angry or shocked due to something that one feels is very unfair or wrong

* The people in our town were outraged when the mayor allowed his friends in the business community to use the city hall for a private party.

to acquit – to be found not guilty of a crime; for a court of law to officially say that one has not committed a crime

* We are confident that Louisa will be acquitted of the crime once the court hears all of the evidence.

riot – a situation where many people behave in a violent way because they are very angry about something or when they are protesting something

* The audience started a riot when the performers didn’t appear after three hours and they were finally told that the concert was cancelled.

mob – a group of very angry and violent people

* Don’t go down Main Street! There’s a mob outside the bank protesting the bank’s new policies.

curfew – a specific hour when people must be in their homes and cannot be on the streets; a specific hour by which parents say their children must be home

* The police will arrest anyone who is found in the downtown area after curfew.

detective – a person whose job is to discover evidence of something that happened or tries to solve a crime

* Malia hired a private detective to find her missing father.

villain – a character in a book, movie, or play who is very bad and does very bad things

* The villain in the movie tried to destroy Earth and kill everyone on it.

cartoon – an animated movie that uses drawings instead of people

* Have you ever seen the old Disney cartoons with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?

third world – the parts of the world where people struggle because of a lack of healthcare, education, jobs, and more; historically the parts of the world that did not help or support capitalist powers (the United States and Western Europe) or communist powers (the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) during the second half of the 1900s

* Doctors working in the third world have to treat illnesses and diseases, but also health problems from the lack of food and clean places to live.

from – used to show a starting point of something; used to show the first of two end points, usually in time or space; used to show what made or caused something

* Are all of your cousins coming from Kentucky for the family reunion?

out of – used to show a person or object coming from a starting point that is inside of something; because of

* Anna opened her present and pulled a new doll out of the box.

to pull (oneself) together/to get a hold of (oneself) – to calm down; to stop panicking

* I know that your son is missing, but pull yourself together. Just get a hold of yourself and tell us all of the places where you think he could be.

What Insiders Know
The Watts Towers

The area of South Central Los Angeles, now more commonly called South L.A., has the “reputation” (is associated with in people’s minds) for “violence” (using physical force to hurt people) and “poverty” (having little money). However, there are also many places in South L.A. that have more positive “associations” (connections in our minds).

The Watts Towers were “designated” (officially given the status of) a National Historic “Landmark” (site or place that has historic importance) in 1990. The Watts Towers is a group of 17 connected “structures” (something that was built) that are very tall, with two of the towers over 99 feet (30 meters).

The towers were built by an Italian “immigrant” (a person who enters a country to live) named Sabato “Simon” Rodia. He worked as a “construction worker,” doing labor to help build homes, buildings, and other things. In his “spare time” (free time; time not working), he built the structures over a period of 33 years, between 1921 and 1954.

Simon Rodia used mainly “found objects” to build his towers, things he discovered just walking around the area. The structures were made of steel “pipes” (long, hollow metal sticks that allow water or other liquid to flow through) and “rods” (long, solid sticks), and it was decorated with anything he found that he liked, such as broken glass, “bed frames” (the metal supports under a bed), and even seashells.

Around 1959, the City of Los Angeles believed that the structures were unsafe and planned to “demolish” (destroy; permanently take down) the towers. A “private” (not part of the government) group worked to keep the towers “intact” (as they were). Today, the Watts Towers is part of the Simon Rodia State Historic Park. It is “operated by” (supported and controlled by) the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.