Rodney King, who became the symbol of police brutality in post-civil rights America, has died at the age of 47. In 1991, an LA resident filmed police severely beating King after he attempted to escape officers who had pulled over his car for speeding. The resulting footage provoked widespread public outcry; the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which 54 people died.
King’s lifeless body was discovered by his fiancée in the couple’s swimming pool on Sunday 17th June 2012. Police launched an investigation into the cause of death but said there were no indications of foul play.
King’s ongoing impact
Before the King video, “racism had not only been reimagined as a thing of the past; it had been whitewashed from the cultural landscape,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad at The Guardian’s Comment is Free. “The videotape of King’s racially charged beating created a crisis of legitimacy that rippled across every police agency in America.” And the system still routinely victimizes young black men, wrote Muhammad, pointing to the silent march against police ‘stop and frisk’ methods that took place in New York on the day of King’s death.
CNN provided a timeline of the events of Rodney King’s life.
A man struggling with the past
“He couldn’t let go of the fact that 54 people died in the 1992 upheaval that he ruefully noted were known as ‘the Rodney King riots’,” wrote The Los Angeles Times’ Kurt Streeter, who interviewed King on the twentieth anniversary of the riots. “He was extremely candid about his addiction to drugs and alcohol; about the damage he’d done to his body and how addiction could have cost him his life on several occasions.” Despite King’s ongoing alcohol issues, Streeter’s overwhelming impression was of “a man who wanted badly to get his life together”.
King’s legacy of forgiveness
During the LA riots, “King stepped to the microphone and asked, ‘Can we all get along?’” pointed out Melinda Henneberger at a Washington Post blog. “Here was a man who’d had his head beaten, his leg broken, his eye shattered… That he still called for peace over vengeance is pretty much the ultimate ‘manning up’ in my book.”
King and the black community
“What I will always remember most is King’s sense of panic once he realized the LAPD was in pursuit mode on that fateful night. That’s why he sped up and fled,” wrote James Braxton Peterson at The Daily Beast. “Black and brown men experience that dreaded sense of panic every day.”
Watch a 2011 interview with Rodney King on police brutality and the Los Angeles riots.
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