Rodney King was reportedly found dead in his swimming pool by police officers Sunday morning. King, the man who famously said “Can we all get along,” and who triggered thousands of people in Los Angeles to riot over injustice, died at the age of 47.
Rodney King became the poster child of police brutality in the ’90s after a videotape of LAPD officers using excessive force to control him gained national attention. Newly branded as the symbol for civil rights, whether he liked it or not, King led many people to advocate against racial discrimination and question the ethics of law enforcement.
On March 2, 1991 in Los Angeles, King and two passengers fled by car from LAPD officers after being spotted speeding. LA police, who were accompanied by a helicopter on the scene, eventually cornered King and the passengers.
After attempting to escape on foot, King later complied to lie on the ground but physically resisted once LA police made an effort to handcuff him. Unable to control him, officers resorted to striking King numerous times with batons and kicks. The use of a Taser was also seen on camera during the altercation. The two passengers in King’s car were taken into custody without incident.
Videotaped by a neighboring resident, the beating caused an immense uproar within the African American community as it gained national media coverage overnight. The officers involved, Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno, were brought to trial afterwards.
Many believed that the videotape, which began recording once King complied to lie on the ground, was more than enough provable evidence for guilt, but it was not. The four officers escaped imprisonment as a jury cleared all four of the men from their charges. Later, the officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges, and two of the four were convicted and sentenced to prison.
In a statement on King’s death, Rev. Al Sharpton said, “History will record that it was Rodney King’s beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement.”
Two decades has passed and it still seem as if little has been done to stop such events from repeating. Racial discrimination remains a prevalent issue today, making Rodney Kings hopes of everyone getting along seem out of hand.
In 2005, former Chicago police officer Howard Morgan, an African American, was hospitalized after suffering 28 bullet shots from four white police officers. The altercation came when Morgan was stopped for a traffic violation, and resulted to none of the officers being charged with wrongdoing.
More recently, the fatal shooting of a Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old black American, gained national media coverage when a white male name George Zimmerman, the self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, shot and killed Martin due to “suspicious” activity. Zimmerman pleaded not guilty to the case, claiming that the act was in “self-defense.”