Unlikely hero: Rodney King dead at 47

Herbert Dyer Jr

Los Angeles experienced its worst ever public disturbances in 1992 following the acquittal of several white LA Policemen who, in '91, on hidden camera, were caught savagely beating black motorist Rodney King.

This served as a wake-up call for both black and white America. Black people had been complaining for centuries about police (or other “official”) brutality and racial profiling, to no apparent avail. Whites, for the most part, were not inclined to believe or accept such accusations; or they considered them as highly exaggerated. After all, the police were known to most of them as "Officer Friendly." However, the King beating, the subsequent acquittal, and the fiery three-day riot left no doubt that something was truly “rotten in Denmark.”

King was pronounced dead this morning. He was found at the bottom of a swimming pool at his home just outside Los Angeles. Pending an autopsy, no “foul play” is suspected. He was 47-years-old.

The Los Angeles riots were marked by the following:

  • 53 deaths
  • 2,383 injuries
  • Over 7,000 fires
  • Serious damage to 3,100 businesses
  • $1 billion in financial losses.

Smaller, sympathy, riots occurred in San FranciscoLas Vegas, and across the country in AtlantaGeorgia.

After the verdict, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said: “The jury's verdict will not blind us to what we saw on that videotape. The men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the L.A.P.D."

President George H. W. Bush said: "Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I and so was Barbara and so were my kids." (That would be George W. and Jeb Bush).

Rodney King was an unlikely “civil rights” or “black power” hero. By the time of the beating, he had been in and out of prison for robbery; and in fact, was on parole at the time. Later, one of the reasons he gave for not stopping when the police tried to pull him over was that he was afraid another DUI conviction would violate his parole.

Since the trial and the riot, King has been arrested several times, mainly for DUI and other alcohol-related offenses. He won a $3.8 million civil rights violation settlement against Los Angeles, which apparently only served to further enable his continued "bad behavior."

Clearly, the man was no angel, but he did not deserve to be beaten to within an inch of his life for speeding.

Rest in peace, Rodney King.

*Herbert Dyer Jr writes for online journal All Voices.com.