Rodney King

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Rodney King

Screenshot of footage of King beaten by LAPD officers on March 3, 1991.
Born April 2, 1965 (1965-04-02) (age 44)
Nationality American
Known for Victim of police brutality

Rodney Glen King (born April 2, 1965 in Sacramento, California) is an African-American man who, on March 3, 1991, was the victim in an excessive force case committed by Los Angeles police officers. A bystander, George Holliday, videotaped much of the incident from a distance.

The footage showed LAPD officers repeatedly striking King with their batons. A portion of this footage was aired by news agencies around the world, causing public outrage that raised tensions between the black community and the LAPD and increased anger over police brutality and issues such as unemployment, racial tension, poverty, and numerous other social inequalities in the black/African-American community.

Four LAPD officers were later tried in a state court for the beating but were acquitted. The announcement of the acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.


[edit] Incident and Arrest

On the night of March 2, 1991, Rodney King and two passengers, Byrant Allen and Freddie Helms, were driving west on the Foothill Freeway. The three men had spent the night watching a basketball game and drinking malt liquor at a friend’s house in Los Angeles.[1] The presumptive evidence, from a blood-alcohol level test taken 5 hours after the incident, when King registered just under the legal limit, is that as King drove his blood alcohol level was approximately 0.19—nearly two and a half times the legal limit in California.[2] At 12:30 AM, Officers Tim and Melanie Singer, a husband-and-wife team of the California Highway Patrol, spotted King’s car speeding. The Singers pursued King, and they claimed the subsequent freeway chase reached speeds in excess of 100 mph.[3] This was questionable, given the poor performance of King's car, a Hyundai Excel. According to King’s own statements, he refused to pull the car over because a DUI would violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction.[4]

King exited the freeway, and the chase continued through residential streets at speeds allegedly ranging from 55 to 80 mph.[5][6] By this point, several police cars and a helicopter had joined in the pursuit. After approximately eight miles, officers cornered King’s car. The first five LAPD officers to arrive at the scene were: Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano.

Highway Patrolman Tim Singer ordered King and his two passengers to exit the vehicle and lie face down on the ground. The two passengers complied and were taken into custody without incident.[1] King initially remained in the car. When he finally did emerge, he acted bizarrely: giggling; patting the ground; and waving to the police helicopter overhead.[6] King then grabbed his buttocks. Highway Patrol Officer Melanie Singer momentarily thought he was reaching for a gun.[7] She drew her gun and pointed it at King, ordering him to lie on the ground. King complied. Singer approached King with her gun drawn, preparing to make the arrest.

At this point, Sergeant Stacey Koon intervened and ordered Singer to holster her weapon. LAPD officers are taught not to approach a suspect with a drawn gun.[8] Sergeant Koon felt Singer's actions endangered King, herself, and other officers.[1] Koon then ordered the four other LAPD officers at the scene—Briseno, Powell, Solano, and Wind—to subdue and handcuff King. As the officers attempted to do so, King physically resisted. King rose up, tossing Officers Powell and Briseno off his back. King then allegedly struck Officer Briseno in the chest.[9] Seeing this, Koon ordered all of the officers to fall back. The officers later testified that they believed King was under the influence of the dissociative drug phencyclidine (PCP),[10] although King's toxicology results tested negative for PCP.[11]

Sergeant Koon then shot King with a Taser. King groaned; momentarily fell to the ground; then stood back up. Koon fired the Taser again, knocking King to the ground.[12] King then stood up and charged in the direction of Officer Laurence Powell.[13][1] Officer Powell then struck King with his baton, knocking him to the ground again. Powell, with Briseno and Wind, then repeatedly struck King with their batons, stomped on him and kicked him while he was on the ground for almost a minute and a half. Unseen by the those involved, the lengthy beating was caught on video by a private citizen, George Holliday, from his apartment near the intersection of Foothill Blvd and Osborne St. in Lake View Terrace (the recording starts just as King charges at Powell).

King was taken to Pacifica Hospital immediately after his arrest. He suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken leg, and numerous bruises and lacerations.[14]

[edit] Trial of the Officers

The Los Angeles district attorney charged officers Koon, Powell, Briseno, and Wind with use of excessive force. While Sergeant Koon did not strike King and had only used the Taser, he was the supervisory officer at the scene and was charged for "willfully permitting and failing to take action to stop the unlawful assault." The initial judge was replaced, and the new judge changed the venue, as well as the jury pool, citing contamination of the jury pool by the media coverage. The new venue was a new courthouse in Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County. The jury consisted of Ventura County residents — ten whites, one Latino and one Asian. The prosecutor, Terry White, was African-American. On April 29, 1992, the jury acquitted three of the officers, but could not agree about one of the charges for Powell.[1]

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."[15]

[edit] LA riots and the aftermath

The news of acquittal triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992. By the time the police, the US Army, the Marines and the National Guard restored order, the casualties included 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damages to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Smaller riots occurred in other cities such as Las Vegas and Atlanta. On May 1, 1992, the third day of the L.A riots, King appeared in public before television news cameras to appeal for calm, asking:

People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.[16]

[edit] Federal trial of officers

After the riots, the Department of Justice reinstated investigation and obtained an indictment of violations of federal civil rights against the four officers. The federal trial focused more on the evidence as to the training of officers instead of just relying on the videotape of the incident. On March 9 of the 1993 trial, King took the witness stand and described to the jury the events as he remembered them.[17] The jury found Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon guilty, who were subsequently sentenced to 30 months in prison, while Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of all charges.

[edit] Cultural impact of the event

The video of the beating is an example of inverse surveillance of citizens watching police. Several copwatch organizations were subsequently organized nationally to safeguard against police abuse, including an umbrella group, October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.[18]

[edit] After the riots

King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil case and used some of the proceeds to start a hip hop music label, Straight Alta-Pazz Recording Company.[19]

In May 1991, he was arrested on suspicion of trying to run over a vice officer who allegedly found him with a transvestite prostitute in Hollywood. In 1993, King entered an alcohol rehabilitation program and was placed on probation after crashing his vehicle into a block wall in downtown Los Angeles. In July 1995, he was arrested by Alhambra police, who alleged that he hit his wife with his car, knocking her to the ground. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail after being convicted of hit and run.[20] On August 27, 2003, King was arrested again for speeding and running a red light while under the influence of alcohol. He failed to yield to police officers and slammed his SUV into a house, breaking his pelvis.[21]

On November 29, 2007, while going home King was shot in the face, arms, back and torso with birdshot by two thieves attempting to steal his bicycle,[22] but his injuries were characterized as not life threatening.

King appeared on the second season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which premiered in October 2008.[23] He also appeared on Sober House, a Celebrity Rehab spin-off focusing on a sober living environment, which aired in early 2009.[24]

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e "JURIST - The Rodney King Beating Trials". 
  2. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 39
  3. ^ Koon v. United States 518 U.S. 81 (1996)
  4. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 43
  5. ^ "Seven Minutes in Los Angeles – A special report.; Videotaped Beating by Officers Puts Full Glare on Brutality Issue". The New York Times. March 18, 1991. Retrieved on 2009-03-10. 
  6. ^ a b US News and World Report: May 23, 1993, The Untold Story of the LA Riot
  7. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 27
  8. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 28
  9. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 31
  10. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp ?
  11. ^ Prosecution Rests Case in Rodney King Beating Trial, The Washington Post, March 16, 1993.
  12. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 31
  13. ^ Koon v. United States 518 U.S. 81 (1996)
  14. ^ Cannon, Official Negligence, pp 205
  15. ^ NY Times: April 30, 1992, THE POLICE VERDICT; Los Angeles Policemen Acquitted in Taped Beating
  16. ^ Ralph Keyes. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. ISBN 0-312-34004-4
  17. ^ Mydans, Seth (March 10, 2003). "Rodney King Testifies on Beating: 'I Was Just Trying to Stay Alive'". The New York Times. Retrieved on March 5, 2009. 
  18. ^ PBS[1] and the ACLU[2] draw connections between the event and the subsequent activities of many organizations.
  19. ^ BBC News "Flashback: Rodney King and the L.A riots"
  20. ^ LA Times: Rodney King
  21. ^ Rodney King slams SUV into house, breaks pelvis
  22. ^ Reston, Maeve (2007-11-30). "Rodney King is shot while riding his bicycle.". Los Angeles Times.,1,3616306.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true. Retrieved on 2007-11-30. 
  23. ^ TV Guide; June 23, 2008; Page 8
  24. ^ Sober House Will Follow Celebrity Rehab Cast, Andy Dick in Sober Living, December 19, 2008

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