The Rodney King legacy lives
Richard Carter | 10/12/2012, 4:17 p.m.
"The world has been a slaughterhouse since the beginning of time, and it still is..."--Orson Welles, "Compulsion" (1959)
It's been 21 years since the infamous night in Los Angeles when Rodney King was brutally beaten by four white police officers, but has America recovered from the racially inspired jury verdict in Simi Valley that found the cops not guilty of the savagery shown around the world? Think about it.
And all these years later, have we recovered from the death-dealing riots spawned by the all-white jury's ludicrous acquittal of officers Theodore Briseno, Stacy Coon, Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind? The three-day conflagration left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and swaths of Los Angeles on fire. Think about that too.
Now, King is dead at 47, drowned on Father's Day, June 17, under mysterious circumstances in the backyard swimming pool at his Rialto, Calif., home. Although in and out of trouble in recent years, his neighbors said nothing but nice things about him.
In recalling King, many remember him as much for what he said at the height of the resulting Los Angeles riots as for the horrific, videotaped police brutality he underwent. To wit: "Can't we just all get along?" Hmmm. A sad, sad story, indeed.
As King underwent the infamous beatdown, I was an op-ed columnist and member of the editorial board at the New York Daily News, and I often wrote on racial matters. Following is my lead editorial of March 9, 1991, about King's beating that ran at the top of that newspaper's editorial page. It was headlined, "In Los Angeles, bad cops":
"The whole country should be outraged at the nationally televised images, in a black-and-white videotape, of up to a dozen Los Angeles cops viciously beating, kicking and stomping a Black man they'd pulled from a car.
"The sickening tape, shot by a neighborhood resident, clearly shows the man on the ground offering no resistance as the cops pummeled him reportedly 56 times in the body and face. According to witnesses, 25-year-old Rodney King pleaded for the cops to stop. The nightsticks just kept on swinging.
"Mayor Tom Bradley, a former police officer, called for an investigation. But Police Chief Daryl Gates, already under fire from activist groups, wrote off the incident as an 'aberration,' promoting understandable calls for his removal.
"The Gulf War is over. But there's still a war going on right here at home--a war against hate. It must be won."
Long before King, and numerous times since, there have been depraved incidents of white cops beating the hell out of innocent Black people. And death sometimes resulted.
In New York, many such atrocities--and the names of the victims--are well known. Indeed, these familiar outrages are too numerous to recount. And they keep on happening.
That said, I'd like to mention a few police incidents in my own life--while not nearly as epoch-making as the King beating--that left their imprint on me. I speak as a man whose sister was a policewoman in Milwaukee for a few years, and my late uncle was a street cop and later that city's first Black detective.