Rodney King: The beating that shocked the world


Rodney King, the man whose senseless victimisation triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992 was pronounced dead on June 17th 2012, 5.25am at his home in California. King’s death has been met with widespread sorrow, with many celebrities and activists coming forward to express their condolences.

King became a national figure, a name synonymous in American race relations after his brutal attack on March 3rd 1991, where he was beaten 55 times and suffered 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage at the hands of four policemen.

The pure brutality of the attack caused outrage. Failure of the American judicial system to deliver justice over the four police officers, led to one of the most volatile protests in American history - 55 people were killed, 2,000 were injured and over 1 billion dollars of damage was dealt to the city in the space of a few days. Twenty years on from the horrific incident, we try to answer King’s famous plea, “Can we all get along?”

Since the incident, there have been many investigations into what happened, such as the Christopher Commission, all with the intention of preventing such a catastrophe from reoccurring again. The Christopher Commission managed to highlight the issues plaguing the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) such as the repeated usage of excessive force. It reported,

the commission has found that there are a significant number of LAPD officers who repetitively misuse force and persistently ignore the written policies and guidelines of the Department regarding force.

However, despite the concerted efforts made by organisations and individuals it seems to have had little effect in American race relations. Since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, there have been other racial incidents and riots; albeit not to the scale of the Los Angeles riots.

The cause of the Cincinnati riots of 2001 is parallel to that of the Los Angeles riots. In both situations tensions were already high due to incidences of racial profiling, and in the case of Cincinnati, the trigger leading to the case was the death of Timothy Thomas. Furthermore, events transpiring just this year with Trayvon Martin being attacked by neighbourhood watch co-ordinator George Zimmerman, it does seem that race relations have a long way to go in America yet.

Perhaps the most poignant lesson to have been learned from the whole escapade comes from CNN ireporter Egberto Willies who in referring to the King beating said,

that changed my entire attitude on how I have always dealt with the police. Always going under the assumption that I would be looked at as simply another black man, who could be abused and have always behaved accordingly, I have always been respectful to the police and have always given them the benefit of the doubt irrespective of me knowing I did nothing wrong.

Fortune Achonna