On this date in 1991, an undetermined number of Los Angeles Police officers beat motorist Rodney King 54 times with batons following a simple speeding violation. All four of the officers that were tried for the case were acquitted, which was the sparking of the wick that led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
Black men have been catching beatdowns on American streets ever since there were police departments, but what made King’s story unique at the time ws that someone secretly videotaped the entire incident and managed to get the recording to the “proper” authorities unscathed.
Even with the golden evidence in black and white motion picture from concerned citizen George Holliday that this is a regular occurence for Black men when encountered by police, even for minor offenses, the beating was shunned by the justice system, clearing all of the officers of any wrongdoing. The frustration led to the almost total destruction of Los Angeles and the unwarranted beating of truck driver Reginald Dennis in the midst of the riots.
A quarter century later, cases like King’s don’t end with million dollar settlements. Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Aiyana Jones and Tamir Rice are all perfect examples of what fates Black men, women and children possibly face when confronted by police. It’s almost as if the cops are doing it for TV.