R.I.P. Rodney King

Rodney King in downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2012. The acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of King sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (Matt Sayles / AP Photo)

Today, someone my age and rung on the ladder may think of being beaten nearly to death by police officers is more or less what happens in 3rd world authoritarian countries and not in one of America’s “World-Class Cities,” if Los Angeles can be characterized in that fashion. The resulting city-wide riot the following year, caused by the four acquitted policemen who beat Rodney King, is of equal disbelief if it were to happen today. I consistently hear that we have a long way to go in race-relations in America (and I think they’re right).

The ’92 L.A. riots is one of the worst this country has ever seen. The scale and damage it had caused along with the video footage of the acquittals of the police officers that came before it, was displayed in living rooms across this country, and had set race-relations back. Some people throughout my life viewed those riots as a horrible  event, but with more anger against the rioters than against the police who beat King and the system who did not do King justice. The destruction of public property and harm to bystanders, like in the case of the horrific video of the near-death beating of Reginald Denny, is unacceptable; the constant harassment, intimidation, and harm of the African-American community in L.A. by the police is equally unacceptable. After decades of subjugation, was the black community in L.A. suppose to a happier bunch of folks after hearing the acquittal of the police officers charged with beating Rodney King? After all, it was something that community had experienced in their daily lives on a consistent basis and wasn’t through a television while sitting comfortably on a couch. I have also encountered from time to time black students in grade school talking about the riots in a positive light. Sad, did they not know that much of the businesses that were looted were black-owned businesses? This is the clearest evidence that the ’92 L.A. riots did set race-relations back, as people became entrenched along racial lines. The media did not help in depolarizing the communities. In writing this post, I just learned that the person who saved Denny the truck-driver, was another truck driver who happened to be black, and is perhaps conveniently not shown on any video I have seen of the incident since 1992. One might think that may be pertinent to the well-publicized and scrutinized drama and important to understanding it was not actually about black versus white or black versus Korean but something much more complicated than that. I’m sure there are more examples.

There have been a number of rational voices as well but who stands out the most is the original victim in that fiasco. Instead of spewing vengeance and hatred after the acquittal of the men who nearly beat him to death as they were calling him “nigger” every chance they had, Rodney King instead called out a phrase that became well ingrained in our cultural psyche: “Can we all get along?” Regardless of his reckless driving where he ended up meting corrupt police officers or that substance abuse might have contributed to his death, he proved himself a good man at the most important time.

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