Rodney King: Victim of police whose beating provoked riots in LA

 

Two decades ago, Rodney King was an improbable martyr for America's civil rights movement – drunk and with a history of various addictions, unemployed and out of jail on parole after a robbery conviction. All that changed, however, when he was stopped by police after a high-speed car chase along Foothill Freeway north of Los Angeles shortly after midnight on 3 March 1991.

King had fled because he had been drinking that night, and feared that a drunk-driving arrest would send him back to jail. The two friends who were with him got out of the car without incident, but King delayed. When he did emerge, he blew a kiss at the four police officers on the scene and waved a helicopter circling overhead.

The police – or so they claimed later – thought King was on the hallucinatory drug PCP. So they "swarmed" him, throwing him to the ground and then tasering him and hitting him more than 50 times with kicks and batons. The beating was captured on video by a local resident, who provided the grainy but shocking footage to television stations.

Its airing created a national outcry, focussing attention on police brutality. After intense public pressure, and an independent blue riband report finding that the use of "excessive force" was a problem for the LAPD from bottom to top," the officers were put on trial. But on 29 April 1992 an all-white jury acquitted three of them, while the fourth was freed as a mistrial was declared.

That night, black Los Angeles erupted in America's worst race riots in a quarter of a century, that left 55 people dead and swathes of south central LA in ruins, and caused over $1bn of damage. In vain did King appear before the world's media to plead for an end: "Can't we all get along, can't we get along?"

The violence led to the resignation of Daryl Gates, the city's hard-edged and combative police chief, who was accused of reacting tardily to the mayhem. A clamour for justice led to a new trial for the four officers, on federal charges that they had violated King's civil rights. This time, two of them were convicted and given two-year prison terms. King himself sued the city and eventually won $3.8m in damages, although most of the money went on legal fees and failed business ventures.

By now, whether he liked it or not, he was a national figure. But the pattern of his life did not change. He continued to drink and use drugs, and was briefly jailed on several occasions, for drunk-driving and assaulting a former wife. King appeared on various celebrity rehab TV shows, but as late as February 2012 – four months before he was found dead in the swimming pool he had built at his home – he was was given a misdemeanour conviction for driving recklessly and without a licence.

Over the years King gradually came to terms with the spotlight he had never sought. People "look at me like I should have been Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Rosa Parks," he said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times earlier this year on the occasion of his memoir The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, timed to mark the 20th anniversary of the riots. He was well aware he did not meet such lofty standards. But, he told the paper, even as a mere "poster child for police brutality," he could still try to use that role as "a positive force for healing and restraint."

Rodney Glen King, victim of police brutality: born Sacramento, California 2 April 1965; married twice (three children); died Rialto, California 17 June 2012.

Suggested Topics
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition