6.18.12. Los Angeles, California---Rodney King, who became famous for the brutal beating he suffered at the hands of four Los Angeles cops, died Sunday at the age of 47.
Reports say he was found by his fiancée, unresponsive in their backyard pool early Sunday morning. She called 911, but it was too late for emergency help to revive him. King had reportedly consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana prior to getting into the pool. Official cause of death is not yet known, but authorities say no foul play is suspected. His death marks a tragic end to a short life rife with tragedies, mayhem and turmoil.
He was no model citizen, having had several run-ins with the law after the beating, and he had bouts with alcohol and rehab and domestic violence. The $3.8 million settlement awarded to him in a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles is almost all gone. He admitted during a recent CNN interview that he blew away the settlement. But he was a human being who didn't deserve the merciless attack that night he disobeyed law enforcement. After all, aren't we a land of laws and due process?
As King's name makes it to the headlines once again, memories of the first time he hit the airwaves flashes vividly by. The 1992 savage beating of King by four Los Angeles police officers caught on tape by a neighbor looped endlessly on television. The talking heads all giving their opinions which for the most part came out along racial lines.
The country was divided in 1992 as the story gained more traction. King's badly beaten face was shown. The 15-minute long beating of batons crashing down and feet stomping on a fellow human being by officers paid to uphold the law--seen in living color--was shocking.
The injuries sustained were extensive. After the horrifying beating, King was rushed to the nearby hospital which wasn't equipped to deal with his type of injuries, so he had to be taken elsewhere. The surgeries lasted hours. One of his doctors said his bones were not only broken, some were crushed to splinters.
The four police officers were indicted and the trial moved to Simi Valley in Ventura County, a mainly white neighborhood. At 3 p.m. on April 29, 1992, an almost all white jury found the officers not guilty, and Los Angeles exploded soon after. Rage that was simmering for decades--claims of repeated police brutality and bias; lack of diversity in the LAPD; inequity; poor race relations -- all provided the perfect storm which the verdict ignited like extra dry cinder.
Los Angles burned for six days. On the fourth day, Rodney King spoke those famous words: "Can't we just all get along?" He was trying to end the "revolt," but the deaths, injuries and the destruction of the city mounted. When the fire subsided and the smoke cleared, the National Guardsmen and police in riot gear retreated, some 60 people lay dead with more than 2,000 injured and 8,000 arrested. More than $1 billion worth of damages stared America starkly in the face.
The land of the free and the home of the brave, where civil liberties, human rights, equality and all those other legacies a democratic society holds dear were burning like the lands from afar. The lands where dictatorship is the law and human rights and equality are non-existent. What happened to America being that shining beacon of light to the rest of the globe?
The past is the past and we cannot change it. The future is distant and we have no control over it, but the present is here and we are totally responsible for what happens now. We cannot erase bygone injustices and atrocities, but if we do not acknowledge it, learn from it, while working undauntingly to make the present humane, just and equal for all, we are doomed to repeat it. It's inevitable.
The riots brought a second trial, and this time the verdict was guilty. The Los Angeles Police Department revamped it's ranks. It tried to diversify and improve race relations between its officers and the local citizenry. America went back to looking abroad for injustices to wage war against. Folks tried "to get along."
Those simple words have reverberated through the decades. It's now 2012, are we all "getting along"? The Trayvon Martin murder trial looms, and again the rhetoric comes down along racial lines. Luckily, Rodney King didn't die from his injuries, though he suffered permanent damage. A teenager died on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., and the racial tension here is also palpable.
Many, including special prosecutor Angela Corey, accuse the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, of profiling 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The Sanford police and prosecutorial handling of the shooting added to the mounting tension, for they did not arrest or charge Zimmerman until 44 days after the killing.
He is now charged with second-degree murder and all eyes are on Florida, anxiously awaitng the trial. As Rodney King exits this world, did he leave an America that is better at race relations? Are we all getting along?