The story of Rodney King was not on the Newseum list of Top News Stories of the Century, but I felt it should have been for the enormous backlash seen in communities across the country. The local community called for the removal of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates. Violent riots broke out in 1992 after the police officers were acquitted by the state court.
On March 3, 1991, King was beaten by three LA police officers as he lay face down, while twelve other officers—including a police sergeant—merely stood by. King was tasered, struck by nightsticks at least 56 times and kicked seven times, fracturing his skull, breaking his leg and damaging nerves. Little did they know that an amateur cameraman, George Holliday, filmed the event from his nearby apartment. Holliday sold the footage to KTLA news and soon, the incident was playing back on television screens across the nation.
As suggested by the Los Angeles Sentinel and questioned in depth by the New York Times, police brutality is no new thing. And what if the incident hadn’t been caught on tape? NY Times reporter Geoffrey Taylor Gibbs offered that police would have played up stories of King resisting arrest and possibly even planting or providing some sort of “weapon” as evidence.
Multiple media outlets cite a range of sources, with most actually quoting King directly. Many made a point of noting King’s initial refusal to say that racism was involved—based on advice given by his attorneys. All of this obviously frames the story in a way that does highlight the racism and overall police brutality that needed—and still needs—to be addressed.
This story of course is all too familiar with the recent killing of Oscar Grant. 18 years after the Rodney King incident and just two months after President Obama was elected, it is a shame that such a thing could still happen. In the same way, communities banded together, took to the streets and called for justice.
Both events also highlight the difference that one individual or individuals can make just by being in the right place at the right time and not being afraid. It shows a change in the way people view and capture the world around them as technology has made it easier for anyone to have a voice. It gives power to the idea of citizen journalism—Holliday and those who recorded the incident on BART may have changed the way each event unfolded and brought awareness to those who have chosen not to see what has been under their noses for too long.
“Black Community Unanimous: ‘Gates Must Go!’” by Ron Dungee Los Angeles Sentinel (1946-2005); Mar 14, 1991; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Sentinel: 1934-2005 pg. A1
“L.A. Cops, Taped in the Act” by Geoffrey Taylor Gibbs New York Times (1857-Current file); Mar 12, 1991; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) pg. A23