Tuesday night, the man behind one of the most infamous incidents in modern American history came to Harlem.
Rodney King made an appearance at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to talk about his new book,”The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption,” with the center’s director, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
In 1991, King was caught on tape being beaten by members of the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Police Department after being stopped for drunk driving. The images were pumped into homes all over America and the media circus that followed had many clamoring for justice. The acquittal of the officers involved in the beating lead to the L.A. riots of 1992–this week marks 20 years since the uprising took place.
King recalled being wheeled into a room at the police precinct post-beating and talking with a Black, female police officer. “She said, ‘Baby, we all seen it on tape. You just lay down and get yourself better so you can deal with this. It’s all on tape; don’t worry about it.’”
King delved into the beating and the riots, but also talked about his childhood, his father and his first experiences with racism as a young man. He talked about growing up in a racially diverse environment and noticing how cops treated Black men differently. He also discussed how his initially idyllic childhood was dampened by his father’s alcoholism, which King eventually picked up himself and still battles with.
During the course of the talk, which was live-streamed on C-SPAN, the audience was presented with slides of photographs from the period on the wall behind the speakers. The images included stills from the video of the beating, a Time magazine cover from 1992 and pictures from the riots. Another slide presented came from 1962, three years before King was born, showing members of the Nation of Islam holding newspapers with headlines about the recent shooting of unarmed “Negroes” at the hands of police in Los Angeles.