Unlikely black American hero Rodney King, who was catapulted to world fame after video footage of him being beaten by Los Angeles police sparked a huge riot, fought drugs and booze to the end, according to his lawyer.
King was found drowned in his swimming pool on Sunday. Investigators are probing the 47-year-old’s death, but they have ruled out foul play.
Milton Grimes told The-Latest, from California: “It was a shock. It was a tragedy. I was not expecting it, especially in that way nor was I expecting it in any other way but I know that he lived with some demons that he constantly tried to over come like all of us but I just hope his statement about ‘Why can’t we all get along?’ will be his legacy.”
King was brutally beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers on March 3, 1991. A bystander, George Holliday, witnessed the shocking incident and videotaped much of the incident from a distance.
His footage showed seven officers surrounding the solitary six foot three inches tall King, with several Los Angeles police officers repeatedly striking a helpless King with their batons while the other officers stood alongside watching the incident, without taking any noticeable action to stop the beating.
A portion of this videotaped footage was aired by news agencies around the world, causing public outrage that increased tension between the local African American community and the Los Angeles Police Department, and increased public anger over police brutality, racism and other social inequalities in Los Angeles.
Four officers who took part in the incident were later tried in the Los Angeles County Superior Court for the beating; the case was given a change of venue to Simi Valley, in nearby Ventura County. Three of the police officers were acquitted, and the jury failed to reach a verdict in regards to the fourth police officer. The announcement of the police officers' acquittals subsequently sparked the Los Angeles uprising in which thousands of people rioted over six days, leading to 54 deaths.
There had been tension between the local African American community and the Los Angeles Police Department, and increased public anger over police brutality, racism and other social inequalities in the city of
Grimes spent 20 months representing King, who suffered extensive injuries including brain damage, and won him a compensation pay out of around £2m. The only African American on the jury ended up as the girlfriend of King, a father of three. She is arranging his funeral.
Grimes said: “I thought it was a very serious emotional comment he (King) made when he said can we all get along. We should try and get along with everyone. One way to do this is to get on with our enemies.”
He added: “I felt pained. I felt anger (after the civil disturbances) so I felt his pain especially when I got to know him and learnt that he really was a big gentle giant. He is a big man therefore he intimidated a lot of people just by his mere presence. He was quiet athletics and so white people tended to believe that he was prone to violence but I don’t know anyone he ever put a hand on.”
Grimes went on: “My memories (of King) are mixed memories. We got to know one another well of the 20 months of my representing him because he required a lot of attention to make sure he stayed on the right course and so that required me to spend a lot of time with him. I got to know him and consider him to be a gentle giant. A big, handsome man.”
Grimes said King gave a heartfelt warning for young people to “stay in school and stay out of trouble, stay out of drugs”. He added: “Rodney had goodness in him that was over shadowed by the media negativity. I remember him fondly. He liked to laugh. He liked to teach. He was a good man. “
King, who wrote a book about his life, may have been made wealthy by his court action but Grimes said: “Like many of us who get a large sum like that we don’t know what to do with it so I can’t say how much he had with him towards the end.”