Rodney Glen King, born on 2 April 1965 in Sacramento, California, became an unintentional symbol of racial tension and police brutality in the United States after his violent arrest in 1991. The brutal incident set off a chain of events culminating in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
On 3 March 1991, King was driving while intoxicated when Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers began pursuing him. After initially evading arrest, King was confronted by four LAPD officers who proceeded to beat him relentlessly with their batons. George Holliday, an uninvolved bystander watching from a nearby balcony, captured the entire brutal episode on video.
The graphic footage showed seven LAPD officers surrounding King. Several officers repeatedly beat a helpless King with their batons while the other officers stood by watching without stopping the beating.
The footage went public after Holliday sent it to the local news station KTLA. News outlets around the globe quickly circulated the video of King’s assault, inciting an international outcry over racially charged police brutality. There was increased tension between the local black community and the LAPD and anger over police brutality, racism and social inequalities in Los Angeles.
In the aftermath of the incident, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates disciplined the four officers involved for excessive use of force and laid criminal charges against three of them. The department initially pressed charges against King for “felony evading” but later dropped that charge.
During his release from jail, King appeared in a wheelchair to address reporters. His broken leg was encased in a cast, his face showing deep cuts and swellings due to billy club blows; bruises all over his body made clear his ordeal.
After a trial marked by heated controversies, three out of four LAPD officers accused were acquitted; meanwhile, the jury could not reach a verdict on one charge for the fourth officer. This result sparked widespread outrage amongst minority communities in Los Angeles that had long encountered racial discrimination and social inequalities. The simmering resentment boiled over into widespread riots that lasted nearly six days.
The Los Angeles Riots in 1992, triggered by the unjust treatment of Rodney King and deeper racial issues, resulted in 63 deaths, over 2,000 injuries, and the incineration of nearly a billion dollars in properties across the city. The terrible events surrounding Rodney King’s arrest brought to national attention the urgent need to address racial prejudice and reform police actions in America.
On 17 June 2012, Rodney King died. The coroner said King had been drinking and was on drugs when he plunged into a swimming pool and accidentally drowned.