Twenty years ago today, African American motorist Rodney King was pulled over and beaten by four white LAPD police officers. The incident was caught on videotape, and you know the rest - or maybe not. KPCC’s Brian Watt checked in with some people too young to remember Rodney King.
"Rodney King... Wow. I read a little about him a while ago, but I’ll be honest. I completely forgot. "
Michael Benitez grew up in Los Angeles and works in a grocery store in West L.A. He’s only 21, so I gave him a few hints to trigger his memory. African-American man. In a police beating. White Officers. Los Angeles.
"Now it’s starting to sound familiar," Benitez said, waiting for a bus on Venice Boulevard. "I think they made a movie out of it."
Eighteen-year-old Andranay Williams already knew my basic facts about Rodney King... and a little bit more.
"I think he sued the police department for like $3 million or something, I’m not sure. I think it happened ... wasn’t it like 1991? It was a year before my time," she said.
Williams grew up in Ladera Heights. She’s studying psychology at Santa Monica College.
I asked her if anyone older had ever talked to her about Rodney King.
"I’ve heard about it through my aunts and stuff," she told me. "But it wasn’t like a major... like 'you need to know what happened to Rodney King'..."
Andranay was having a sandwich for lunch across the street from the campus with 24-year-old biology student, Aram Yegiazaryan. He was born in Armenia, but came to L.A. as a kid a year before the Rodney King incident.
Lake View Terrace, to be exact. When I mentioned the riots that broke out a year later when a jury in Simi Valley acquitted the L.A. police officers involved in the King beating, Andranay Williams chimed back in.
"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..."
At the next table over, 18-year-old sociology student Freddie Jackson could only remember that, like himself, Rodney King is African-American.
"You’re here asking us a question: who’s Rodney King? And we’re like blank because we don’t know who Rodney King is," he lamented. "I think that it shows badly on us and also to generations before us that know and that witnessed the riot or heard of the riot or something like that."
Jackson, who was born and raised in North Hollywood, said his elders don’t think his generation cares about such historic incidents. If those young people do care, they have a lot of history to learn, beginning with this: the Rodney King beating happened 20 years ago today.