On March 3, 1991, Rodney King pulled over his vehicle after a brief chase with police. Little did he know that the moment he stepped out of the car, he would become the central figure in of one of the most infamous moments in modern U.S. history.
In this Rodney King Wiki, we’ll look at the man who became a symbol of police brutality and what happened to him after he faded away from the spotlight that had been thrust upon him.
Who Was Rodney King Before His Arrest, L.A. Riots?
Rodney Glen King was born on April 2, 1965, in Sacramento, California. His parents were Ronald and Odessa King, who had four other children. The family is of African-American descent.
Ronald passed away at the relatively young age of 42. According to King, Ronald had been a violent alcoholic. Alcoholism was something that King himself would deal with until the end of his days.
Before his arrest in 1991, King was married twice. His first marriage to Daneta Lyles lasted from 1985 to 1988. He then married Crystal Waters in 1989; they later divorced in 1996.
Both marriages each produced a daughter. King also had a third daughter with a girlfriend when he was a teenager.
March 3, 1991 Begins with a Car Chase
After drinking and hanging out with friends, watching a basketball game, Rodney King began to drive two friends home. King, a black motorist, was speeding when he caught the attention of the California Highway Patrol. Officers starting pursuing him, and King decided to try to outrace them.
King was on parole for a convenience store robbery he had committed in 1989. He fled from the officers because a charge of driving under the influence would have violated his parole and likely sent him back to prison.
Although the speed of the chase grew faster, King later maintained that he had followed the other rules of the road, like halting at stop signs.
Several Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cars and a police helicopter joined in the pursuit. King eventually stopped his car eight miles after the chase began.
The two California Highway Patrol officers, Tim and Melanie Singer, ordered the occupants out of the car. King’s friends, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms, exited the car first and were manhandled by police.
After King finally made his exit from the car, he reach towards his back pocket. Officer Melanie Singer, worried that King was drawing a firearm, pulled her pistol and ordered him to the ground.
At this point, the LAPD decided to take tactical control of the situation. Officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano were the first L.A. cops to arrive at the scene. Others would arrive afterward.
Koon ordered all firearms to be holstered and told the other four officers to use a technique known as swarming in order to subdue and handcuff King. King resisted, standing up to remove Powell and Briseno from his back. And then the situation escalated.
The Beating…and a Witness
Koon Tasered King twice. King fell to the ground, but soon got back up and rushed toward Powell, either to attack him or flee.Powell then struck King multiple times with his baton.
Briseno tried to stop Powell from hitting King. Koon reportedly told the officers, “That’s enough.”
And then King tried to rise again.
Powell and Wind began striking King with their batons in waves, landing a few powerful blows and then backing off for a few moments. King continued to try to stand again.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Powell, Briseno, and Wind all took swings at King with their batons.
Eventually, restraints were placed on King and his bloody and bruised body was dragged to the side of the road for emergency medical treatment.
By that point, other officers had arrived at the scene and not a single one of them had tried to stop the beating.
King’s injuries were extensive: a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations. He later claimed in his lawsuit against the LAPD that he also suffered “11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney failure [and] emotional and physical trauma.”
Despite all the injuries inflicted on King and his friends (Allen claimed he had been kicked and stomped and Helms suffered from a head wound), there is a very good chance that Rodney King’s beating would have been a minor historical footnote if it were not for a man named George Holliday.
The Video That Shook the United States
During the beating, Holliday heard a commotion outside and grabbed his camcorder. He started recording right around the time Koon Tasered King. He kept the tape rolling until the beating was finished.
Holliday then spoke to the LAPD and told them about the tape, hoping they would do something about this display of excessive force. But the LAPD didn’t appear to be all that interested.
The next call Holliday made was to television station KTLA, which aired most of the video on the Monday following the beating.
The Rodney King video exploded into the public consciousness with CNN obtaining a copy after the KTLA broadcast. Once CNN aired the video, it could not be ignored by anyone, especially the LAPD.
See the Rodney King police beating video here:
Officers Charged and Tried
A few days later, on March 7, King was released from hospital without being charged. A week later, Koon, Powell, Wind, and Briseno, all white, were charged for their roles in King’s beating.
The 17 officers who stood by at the King beating and did nothing were let off the hook.
On April 29, 1992, despite the video evidence and testimony from the victims, three of the officers were acquitted by a mostly white jury. The jury couldn’t agree on one of the charges against Powell.
The jury later cited one piece of evidence as essential to their decision to acquit the police: the beginning of the Holliday video, before the image was in focus, where King charges towards the officers. These 10 seconds of footage were originally cut by KTLA.
The jury felt that this footage, along with the high-speed chase, was enough to warrant the force that was used by the police officers.
How Did the L.A. Riots Start?
None of the four officers involved in Rodney King’s beating would see any jail time. To many people in the Los Angeles area, this was the final straw after years of tension between the city’s black population and the LAPD.
The 1992 Los Angeles riots began very quickly after the verdict was read in South Central L.A. and spread across the city.
Reginald Denny, a white truck driver in the wrong place at the wrong time, was dragged from his truck and brutally beaten by rioters.
A state of emergency was eventually called and the national guard was brought in. Dusk-to-dawn curfews were enforced.
On May 1, 1992, Rodney King stepped out to try to help quell the violence. He stepped in front of a mic and asked a burning Los Angeles to stop the violence.
“I just want to say—you know—can we all get along? Can we, can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? And I mean we’ve got enough smog in Los Angeles let alone to deal with setting these fires and things.
“It’s just not right—it’s not right. And it’s not going to change anything. We’ll get our justice; they’ve won the battle, but they haven’t won the war. We’ll have our day in court and that’s all we want.”
His now-famous speech was completely improvised and spoken from the heart.
While King’s quote “Can we all get along?” would later be turned into a parody of itself, the desired effect of the speech was soon achieved. The riots were eventually quelled and life started to go back to normal in Los Angeles.
Though some may argue it was never back to “normal,” as more than 12,000 were arrested, 2,383 were injured, and 63 people died during the L.A. riots.
However, the four officers were once again brought up on charges, this time for violating King’s civil liberties. And this time, the courts delivered some justice.
On April 16, 1993, Koon and Powell were convicted of violating King’s civil liberties and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Wind and Briseno were acquitted.
Rodney King’s Life after the Trials
While life returned to normal for most of Los Angeles, King’s life never would.
King won $3.8 million in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, which was a victory of sorts, but the damage had been done.
King had issues with alcohol and drugs for the rest of his life. There were a number of arrests for driving violations and a few stints in rehab, including one on the reality show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
On June 17, 2012, King’s fiancee Cynthia Kelly found him at the bottom of his swimming pool. Paramedics were called, but it was too late.
According to officials, King had drowned in the pool, most likely due to a heart issue caused by the drugs that were found in his system.
The Legacy of Rodney King
What does Rodney King mean today? King, the video of his beating, and his speech did change the United States in a number of different ways.
With the recording of King’s beating, people started to realize just how public everything was and how many cameras were out there to capture goings-on.
Many people believe that the not-guilty verdict in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial was a direct result of the outcome of the first trial of the police officers who beat King.
For many people, King became a symbol of the brutality that overzealous authority figures could inflict in the United States. King was also a symbol of peace, and he was remembered as a man who fought his demons and wanted to be better.
King’s daughter, Lori, founded The Rodney King Foundation for Social Justice and Human Rights, a nonprofit group aimed at helping marginalized people achieve their goals with support and tools.
The foundation holds workshops on leadership and community building and tries to uphold the ideals presented in Rodney King’s speech to Los Angeles during the 1992 riots.