The year was 1992. The month was April. The day was the 29th. The city was Los Angeles. The state was California. The country was the United States of America. A trial was being held in California that year and it was being watched closely by the citizens of Los Angeles.
Twenty-five years ago, a videotape was taken by George Holliday of four white Los Angeles police officers beating motorist Rodney King, after a high speed car chase. This video was seen around the world. The images were of an unarmed black man being beaten unmercifully by these Los Angeles police officers. He was struck more than 50 times by members of the Los Angeles Police Department. He suffered 11 fractures and other injuries due to the beating. Racial tensions were at an all time high.
Would a predominately white jury acquit these officers of this brutal beating, which was seen by millions of viewers around the world? “Yes” was the answer.
The night of the acquittal, the city exploded. A rebellion that lasted five days and resulted in the death of 50 people took place that Spring. More than 2,000 people were injured during this melee. Over 1,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. It was estimated that the property damages were over 1 billion dollars. During the rioting, more than 12,000 people were arrested. It took 10,000 California National Troops to restore order. During the rioting, Rodney King called on people to stop rioting.
During an interview that was broadcast nationally, Rodney King posed a most profound question to the people of the United States, when he said, in a halting manner, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the old people and the kids?” Rodney King never got an answer to his question. Twenty years later, the man known as Rodney King, died of a mysterious drowning on June 17, 2012. He was only 47 years-old.
Very few people knew that Rodney King was born on April 2, 1965, four months before the Watts rebellion of August 1965. The man who asked, “can we all get along” did not live long enough to see a spate of police shootings around the nation, e.g., Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Oscar White, Tamir Rice and countless others.
On the 25th anniversary of the civil unrest in Los Angeles, news stations around the nation, showed clips of the rioting in Los Angeles, the burning and yes, the beating. If you muted the sound and just watch the videos, you could not tell whether it was Los Angeles, Baltimore or Cleveland that you were watching. It was virtually the same scenes that had occurred in those cities.
Where and when will the next high profile police shooting take place? What cell phone camera will record the incident? As a result of the Rodney King trial, we know that body cameras alone is not the answer. After all, the Rodney King beating was captured on videotape.
We also know that 25 years later the Rodney King question is as relevant today as was yesterday. “Can we all get along”, may very well become a referendum on the future of our grandchildren. I don’t know about you, but, I pray that people begin paying attention to conditions that are being exacerbated by a government that is out of touch with the disenchanted, the disillusioned, the disenfranchised and the discontented, and with the lives in the ghettos and barrios of this nation. They, like Rodney King, aren’t even thought about until…
A Luta Continua!
Carl Snowden is a political and civil rights leader in Annapolis.
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