This past weekend Rodney King, the unfortunate star of one of the most jarring, yet memorable videos of all time was found dead at the age of 47. While he's now gone, the video of him being brutally beaten by LAPD officers will live on in infamy, for better or worse.
For those of you who don't recall the King saga, here's a brief summation: On March 2, 1991, cops began to tail King's car after it was seen speeding down the street. King, who had been drinking that night and believed that he was above the legal limit, refused to pullover because he thought that a positive DUI test would violate his parole. In 1989, King was convicted for robbery.
A chase ensued for about eight miles, before several cop cars cornered his vehicle. King's passengers willingly gave themselves up to officers, but King continually resisted and at points began getting physically aggressive with officers. As a result, six officers soon proceeded to beat the daylights out of King (who eventually claimed to have suffered 11 skull fractures), even after he was unable to really defend himself.
This incident was caught on tape by a nearby resident and eventually passed along to KTLA Television. As the video of King's beating circulated, outrage ensued, eventually leading to the trial of four of the officers involved. To the surprise of some, all officers were acquitted in 1992. Once that news broke, resident outrage began and Los Angeles rioted for six-days, leading to 53 deaths, 2,300+ injuries, 7,000 fires and more than US$1 billion in financial losses.
Eventually, King won a US$3.8 million civil suit and two officers involved were tried and convicted for violations of federal civil rights.
Twenty-years later, King is gone, but because of the wonder that is YouTube and content sharing, the video of likely the worst night of his life is still out there and showing how powerful a video can be and us just how out of control a situation can get.
As terrible as it is to say, this is a good thing. King's video needs to still be out there and watched. While smartphones, tablets and ultra-portable cameras are seemingly always at the ready to catch history as it happens, that wasn't the case back in '91. One man, likely the owner a shoulder-crippling camcorder took it upon himself to take action. Back then, he couldn't just grab an iPhone, hit the record button, then blindly post the video onto the Internet and hope that social media revelers would catch it and spark some action.
This man, George Holliday knew what he was seeing was wrong and knew that the public needed to be informed. When cops wouldn't address the tape, he went to the media and helped spark a historical moment.
Needless to say, some probably hold him partially responsible for the tragedy of the L.A. riots - I can see that. But, in an era where a number of white cops in L.A. weren't exactly the friendliest of people to African-American suspects, he took a chance by essentially telling the world that it doesn't matter what the situation, or race of the victim may be, an unarmed citizen cannot be treated that way.
As for King, it's hard to imagine what he must've thought about the video as the years went on and when it became more widely accessible. His continual battles with alcohol abuse would've suggested that he never quite got over what happened and that it had to carry on as the video continued circle the digital world.
Video, as we all know, has come a long way since 1991. The quality is better, the equipment used to capture it is better and the way it can be shared is far more convenient.
That said, few videos have ever, ever sparked such a historical moment in time as the Rodney King beating. It showed the worst that humanity has to offer and essentially served as a constant reminder to the victim that sometimes the world is not a fair place.
Hopefully now, a fairer place has been found for him.
RIP Rodney King.
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