It's been 20 years today since the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, an incident captured on grainy video by George Holliday, a resident of Lake View Terrace who heard the commotion and captured the beating from his balcony.
The videotape, and the riots that followed in late April after four white officers accused in the beating were acquitted, tore the lid off long-simmering racial and socioeconomic tensions in South Los Angeles and other working-class sections of the city. It also created a national conversation about the treatment of minority groups at the hands of authorities.
Just about every news outlet today has a take on the 20th anniversary of the beating, ranging from interviews with King, who suffered serious injuries and later sued, to explorations of how police conduct business in an era where cameras are omnipresent. A sampling:
The Los Angeles Times had piece on how the LAPD is now a "changed operation," though cameras have so far been installed in only one-fourth of its cars:
The use of cameras by the LAPD has evolved considerably over the years. Putting cameras in patrol cars was a key reform proposed by the Christopher Commission, which studied the LAPD after the King beating. After years of delays, the department recently installed cameras in a quarter of its cars and plans to outfit the rest of its fleet in coming years. In addition to deterring misconduct, police officials believe that cameras can help exonerate officers from false accusations.
A blog post in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that 20 years later, even with cameras everywhere, suspect beatings are still common:
Just a search for "police beating" on YouTube shows a large number of disturbing videos and titles. . For example: "Video Allegedly Shows Md. Police Beating Student," "Philadelphia Police Beating Caught On Tape," "Police beat down an old man...," "Minneapolis Police Beat Man," "Seattle Police Beating." And the last one, where a Seattle Police officer beat a 16-year-old black girl two years ago, is the most disturbing one I've seen to date, and all because she kicked her own shoes off while in jail.
The blog Thy Black Man cited from a Center for Constitutional Rights report on police and minorities in New York City:
Their report — which contains data from 2005 to 2008, supplemented by an update for 2009 and 2010-found that when blacks and Latinos are stopped by the NYPD, 45 percent of them were frisked, as opposed to only 29 percent of whites.
This occurs despite the fact that whites, who are 44 percent of New York’s population, are 70 percent more likely to have a gun. Moreover, CCR found there was no correlation between the proportion of stops-and-frisks by race and the rate of arrest or summons, demonstrating that stop-and-frisk is an ineffective crime-fighting tool.
Further, blacks and Latinos are more likely to have physical force used against them. For example, in early 2008, 18 percent of whites stopped had physical force used against them by the NYPD, as opposed to 24 percent of Latinos and blacks.
KPCC's Brian Watt interviewed several young people about what they knew about King and the subsequent riots, many of whom drew a near-blank, like 18-year-old Santa Monica College student Andranay Williams:
"I don’t remember but my mom tells me about them, in L.A. or something. Because they were like – what is it called – looting?" She struggled to find that word. "When you go in places and take stuff? Yeah..."
No particular story jumped out today regarding the post-riot tension between African American residents and Korean immigrant business owners in South Los Angeles, many of whom were criticized by residents for running businesses such as liquor stores. But on the 14th anniversary of the riots a few years ago, New American Media posted this opinion piece from a Korean American writer who described the riots as "a glaring example of racial prejudice against Koreans:"
I observed the local news media focus on inner-city merchant-customer disputes as a racially charged conflict between African-Americans and Korean-Americans. That reached a high point when Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American shopkeeper, shot an African-American teenage shoplifter in the back of the head, killing her, after the girl had hit Du three times and knocked her to the ground. Du's case eventually led to a flashpoint of blacks' venting their frustrations about the Rodney King beating case on Koreans.
Finally, the urban lifestyle blog BallerStatus had a post today on "How Rodney King Changed Hip-Hop" that concluded with:
Some may argue that times have changed and the season of "fighting the power" is a part of a bygone era. However, with incidents of global outrage taking place from Egypt to Wisconsin, maybe not.
Perhaps Ice Cube was right when he once rapped: "April 29th brought power to the people, and we just might see a sequel."
Only the 'hood knows....
There's also a local television interview with King, above, from two years ago that's circulating on Twitter today.