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What Have We Learned? Rodney King Beating by LAPD 20 Years Later

Michael Cerkas's picture

Twenty years ago, on March 3, 1991, an event changed the world we lived in, however, it wasn’t a man named Rodney King being severely beaten at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department officers, but rather, the chance video recording of it by an observer in the street whose name was George Holliday.

At a time when some believed the world was on a path toward healing of racial tension that surfaced in the 1960’s in the United States, it became painfully evident that the country had not learned very much at all about it in the previous 30 years.

More alarming, was the revelation of that ‘societal retardation’ known as racial discrimination came to light purely by chance. That was the real crime.

LAPD officers chased a white Hyundai for a speeding violation after the driver failed to yield to the police squad. A high speed chase ensued with speeds exceeding 115 mph on the freeway. The police eventually were able to stop the vehicle, with three males inside. The two passengers complied with officers and were taken into custody without incident.

What happened next, however, was anything but routine. Watch a CBS News Account of the incident here.

The driver, Rodney King, eventually exited the vehicle as ordered, however, did not comply to the officer’s command to lie face down in the street with his hands behind his back and was exhibiting bizarre behavior including laughing and waving to the overhead helicopter, leading officers to believe he was under the influence of some substance.

Upon lying on the ground as requested, officers attempted to cuff and subdue King, whereupon he resisted and threw officers away from him, striking another in the chest. King was subsequently tasered twice and then repeatedly clubbed with police batons. King was intoxicated (.019 BAC).

By the time Rodney King was hand and cord cuffed, he endured 56 baton strikes and six kicks.

Follow the original 911 call between LAPD officers and central dispatch here.

Regardless of the chase, the driver’s refusal to stop, and regardless of his past record, what occurred at that traffic stop underscored excessive use of force. In his own statements, Rodney King refused to pull over because he knew that a DUI conviction would violate his parole. The silver lining of that cloud, however, was that the violence came to be known and was subsequently shared with the public via technology.

Make no mistake, Rodney King was no saint. In 1989 he robbed a store in Monterey Park, California using an iron bar to threaten and hit the store owner. He was subsequently convicted and was imprisoned for two years.

The second and perhaps, more disconcerting crime was the later acquittal of the officers who were accused of using excessive force in the arrest of King. Conspicuously, the jury was comprised of ten White, one Latino and one Asian.

The seminal videotaped beating of Rodney King and the later acquittal of the LAPD officers subsequently led to the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

Importantly, after the riots in LA, the United States Department of Justice reinstated the investigation that resulted in guilty verdicts for two of the officers, who were sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In a related civil suit, Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million for his injuries and suffering.

In hindsight, twenty years have passed since that violent early morning traffic pursuit and stop. Positively, the LAPD changed as a result with increased accountability. Interestingly, the video captured by bystander George Holliday triggered a surge in citizen journalism and reporting.

Questionably, racial accord in America, has not improved much.

Image credit: Laist.com

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