Skip to main content

If we are to speak of "Rodney King" the incident or historic moment rather than Rodney King the man that passed tragically at the age of 47 this weekend, we are talking about a moment caused by technological development more than anything else.

If the truth be told, a black man getting the shit kicked out of him by white policemen wasn't all that rare. It never has been in American history. If the truth be told, its not all that rare, even today, and we all know I can cite numerous cases from the last year to make my point.

What was improbable, in 1991, was that someone would be across the street with a camcorder with enough low-light capabilities to catch all the action. The police weren't ready for that one. Five of them were beating the shit out of Rodney King while another twenty stood around cheering them on, and the camera caught them with their pants down.

That's what caused the Rodney King incident.

Now that seems like ancient history. Now the LAPD has it's own camcorders and they know half a dozen cell phone cameras may catch every move. Now, the occupy movement even makes it a practice to live stream police brutality, but 20 years ago the police had beaten many a black man but they had never had a Rodney King incident yet.

As to the Los Angeles Riot that followed. There is something else I would like to clear up because I lived it. I lived near Washington Blvd & Redondo Blvd. in 1992 and my shop was on Venice Blvd. in mid-town.

All yesterday I heard reporters and commentators speaking about the death of Rodney King, and saying that the riot or uprising was caused by the beating he took. That is revisionist history. The Rodney King Incident happen in March 1991. The uprising took place in April 1992 when the cops that were charged in the incident were acquitted.The black community in Los Angeles just lost it.

I consider that that was also driven by technology.

You see, the Rodney King trial of the four cops in Simi Valley was one of the first trials, if not the first, to be televised gavel-to-gavel. It was followed, in short order, by the O J Simpson trial and then came Court TV and now cameras in the courtroom are no big thing, but at the time, it had never been done before and they didn't know they were playing with dynamite.

Channel 9 coverage was excellent and it was keenly watched in the black community. People who had no jobs had time to watch it. Mothers home with their children had time to watch it. I had it on every day over my work bench.

So when the jury came back with "not guilty" the black community was livid at the sheer arrogance of the judicial system. For once there had been a video tape of the kind of thing that happened all the time and still the cops walked. It was as if the defense had said "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" and they believed him.  It smacked of the Dred Scott decision.

It was the injustice, not the beating, that caused the Rodney King riots, and it was the march of technology that brought that injustice home as never before.

10:14 AM PT: My personal introduction to the uprising went like this. I watched the verdict come in on TV like maybe a million others, I think it was about 3pm. I knew that activists would be forming up to protest at Parker Center, LAPD HQ, left a note on the frig, and headed down there.

Of course, the usual group of activists and then some started to congregated in front of Parker Center. I'd already had a long history of fighting police abuse in LA, 8 years earlier I was a named plaintiff in the ACLU - LAPD spying case, so I was no stranger to the sidewalk in front of Parker Center and knew a lot of the people there.

As the afternoon wore on, the protest got larger and more militant, as I noticed the LAPD forming up their lines for some sort of move, I decided it was a good time to make my exit and I am very glad that I decided not to get arrested that day.

I stayed in the area and I was strolling along the line of TV news vans that had formed up on one side of the street. It was dark by then. I saw on one of the monitors in a news van, what as clearly a live helicopter shot of the city and fires were burning everywhere. I asked the tv news guy what was going on and he said "Oh yeah, the whole city has erupted." I rushed home to make sure my family was safe and began a week like no other I have ever lived.

My hat still goes off to our local gas station on the corner of Hauser &  Venice that stayed open and pumped gas through it all, and to the Pantry on 9th & Figueroa that kept its reputation of "Never closed, never without a customer" [since 1924] through it all.

Originally posted to Linux Beach on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I Will Just Say This (5+ / 0-)

    There is a beat down. There is a total ass-whooping. Then I'd argue there is attempted murder. What those cops did, and I had not seen that video in maybe 15 years until this weekend, and it surprised me as much seeing it this time as it did the first time I saw it. Horrific!

    BTW: I totally, totally agree it was the injustice, not the beating that caused those riots. I think that is clear to anybody that lived through it as I and you did.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:14:50 AM PDT

    •  Oh I Should Note I Didn't Live In LA (0+ / 0-)

      when I said "lived through it." I was finishing my MA in Journalism and watched a lot of it on TV. And in journalism classes, well we talked about the coverage of it for hours on end. The technology. The coverage. You name it.

      I recall when the riots broke out, sitting with friends, bong in hand, confused. Mad watching it live on TV. Just frustrated at how that jury could possibly reach that verdict.

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:25:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I heard a later interview with Rodney King in (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tngirl, worldlotus

      he said he heard the cops say "We're going to kill you." And that's what he thought they were doing, and indeed could have done, if not for luck. [The saying "They beat him to a pulp, then they kicked that around." comes to mind.]

      That's why he kept rising up and trying to protect his head.

      Remember history, Clay Claiborne, Director Vietnam: American Holocaust - narrated by Martin Sheen

      by Clay Claiborne on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:40:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The 15-20 Seconds Of The Video (2+ / 0-)

        you might have seen this weekend, keep in mind the whole thing went on for a few minutes. That was the worse, but that wasn't all of it.

        If me and a few of my friends come up on you and did what those cops did to King, well that in my book I and bet most DAs, attempted murder.

        When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

        by webranding on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:51:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this Clay. (5+ / 0-)

    Well done sir. This needed to be said.

    "Can't we all just get along?"

    Rodney King, RIP

  •  Tipped, rec'ed and republished (7+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:22:40 AM PDT

  •  like subime said (5+ / 0-)

    cuz everybody in the hood
    has had it up to here

    if you look at the streets
    it wasn't about rodney king
    it's this fucked-up situation
    and these fucked-up police

    Die with your boots on. If you're gonna try, well stick around. Gonna cry? Just move along. The truth of all predictions is always in your hands. - Iron Maiden

    by Cedwyn on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:36:25 AM PDT

  •  We all know (0+ / 0-)

    that what happened to Rodney King was unjust. There was justice here. I was hoping it would set an example for other police officers, has it? RIP Rodney King!

  •  Tipped and recc'd (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Rodney King's beating was more typical than most of us would like to believe and not unique to LA by a long shot. But Los Angeles contributed a lot more than its share to the too-common mentality shared by large parts of the law enforcement community to this day. Daryl Gates was our Bull Connors. More than that, he had a large part in the ever-increasing militarization of our law enforcement nationwide. The first SWAT team came into being in LA on his watch as Police Chief.

    Then there was this:

    Casual drug users "ought to be taken out and shot," Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates told a Senate hearing Wednesday on the first anniversary of the Bush Administration's war on drugs.
    [That would be the FIRST Bush administration, of course]
    Gates, discussing his comment to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his harsh assessment was aimed at those "who blast some pot on a casual basis" despite the illegality of the act, as opposed to hard-core addicts who are driven by their physical need for illicit drugs.

    Gates, whose remark to lawmakers was reminiscent of a 1972 proposal by former Los Angeles Police Chief Edward M. Davis to hang airline hijackers at the airport, said in an interview outside the hearing that he was not being facetious.

    This was the guy we allowed to run the police department of the largest city in the country. Even now, the LAPD still honors his memory.

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

    by leftist vegetarian patriot on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 10:49:46 AM PDT

  •  Something I remembered (0+ / 0-)

    though I didn't live there--another case had come up at the same time which to some extent explained the attacks on Korean stores.

    As I remember it, a 15-year-old black girl stole a carton of orange juice from a Korean shopkeeper and the woman shot her in the back and killed her.  The judge--this is hard to write even after all these years--the judge fined the shopkeeper $500, saying "I would have been frightened too."  

    Fining the woman $500 in my opinion was worse than simply setting her free. It seemed to me an insult, saying that $500 is what a black girl's life was worth.

    Anyway, that's what people told me at the time was playing into the attacks on Korean grocery stores.

    Being ignored is the difference between being a one percenter and an American.--sweeper

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 12:34:44 PM PDT

    •  It contributed to anti-Asian hatred (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The incident you refer to was the shooting of Latasha Harlin by the grocer Soon Ja Du.  It occurred a couple of weeks after the Rodney King beating.

      A few items:

      There is no evidence Harlins was trying to steal the juice.  She apparently had her money out.  The shop owner ( a 51-year-old Korean woman) thought she had something in her backpack and grabbed it.   Harlins, who was a large girl, came around the counter and slugged Dou several times, causing her to fall to the ground.  By the time she got up, Harlins was headed for the exit.  Dou produced the gun and fired, hitting Harlins in the back of the head.  
      Dou claimed she did not intend to fire.  The trigger on the gun had been altered so that it fired with very little pressure.  Dou was convicted of voluntary manslaughter.  In addition to the fine, Dou was put on probation and was made to do community service.

      It was a bad time in LA.  Crime was very bad.  There were many relatively recent immigrant Koreans who had bought small markets and liquor stores in LA, often in poor neighborhoods.  Shoplifting and armed robberies were common.  Store owners and clerks were murdered for $45.  Many of the shop owners spoke very poor English, and the way they treated customers was often perceived as being rude and aggressive, though there were enormous cultural differences as to was seen as appropriate behavior in those settings.

      When the riots began, Asian stores and businesses were targeted.  Black rioters/arsonists/looters stole the property from hundreds of Asian-owned businesses, for the simple fact that they were owned by Asians, then torched them.

      All in all, it was a horrible time...

  •  You are right as far as the triggering event (0+ / 0-)

    The tape of the beating caused outrage across LA, white, black, and Latino.  Most people were also shocked by the verdict, though in some ways it wasn't surprising.  The defense broke the tape down second by second.  Each of the cops' blows were linked to a specific move by King, whether it appeared he was trying to get up, grab one of the cops, whatever.  The totality of the beating was grossly inappropriate and criminal, yet the defense brilliantly managed to "justify" each small individual segment.  When the verdict came down, that was the triggering event.  I remember it well.

    I believe it was more of a cop thing than a black man thing.  Thousands of black men were being arrested in LA during that period.  A very small percent were beaten like that (it still would add up to quite a few beatings).   I think it was more about a perceived disrespect to the cops' authority, by not pulling over initially, to leading the police on a  high-speed chase through a densely populated urban area ( a serious crime), putting cops at risk, and then a lack of "cooperation" was King was finally stopped.  Anyone I know, white or black, who has done something to flaunt the authority of the police, risks having something bad happen.

    It was a terrible thing for LA, and it took years to recover.  It still makes my skin crawl to hear it call an "uprising."  Maybe that first night at the Parker Center, and at other spontaneous demonstrations around the city.  But it soon devolved into pure greed and senseless violence.  People were killed and beaten for being the wrong skin color.  Their businesses were torched.  Then the looters took over.   If you were working near Hauser and Venice you know what I am talking about.  For several days convoys of gangs roamed the city, looting electronic stores, auto parts dealers, camera shops, clothing stores, whatever their greedy hearts desired.  There wasn't a shred of political motivation in that.  To call it an "uprising" insults legitimate freedom fights.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site