passing of Rodney King represents the end of an American
tragedy. More tragic than King’s life ending at the
early age, 47, is that he may be remembered for something
much less significant than that for which he should
be remember. See, Rodney wasn’t the tragedy. The torturous
beating of Rodney King in March of 1991 was the unveiling
of an American tragedy, corruption under the cover
knew how dirty the culture had become until they saw
what will forever be known as the tape
beating was most vicious thing that those born in
the post civil rights era (after 1968 and the death
of another King) had personally witnessed. But that
same generation had been victims of all the draconian
laws that came in the aftermath of the civil rights/pro
black radical movements, including a refashioned practice
called “racial profiling.” Many of them had a hidden
animus for the po’lice that their parents and grandparents didn’t understand.
There has always been great suspicion of law enforcement
in the black and Latino communities, and for great
reason. But the Gen Xers and Yers had a deep seeded
hatred for police. We couldn’t understand the intensity
of the anger demonstrated by Compton Rap Group, Niggas
With Attitudes (known as NWA). This represented
more than just artistic defiance. It represented a
rejection of the police as a represented protector
of our community. The police were now the predators
and our youth were the prey.
people knew what their parents knew not. The police
were considered “dirty.” We had enough sense to know
that it wasn’t every cop, but we knew it was enough
to create a dirty culture of silence and complicity.
Nobody knew how dirty the culture had become until
they saw what will forever be known as the tape.
At that moment, we knew. We then knew the reason
for our children’s outrage against the police.
didn’t know his name when we first saw it, but we
knew nobody deserved to be beaten like that. Once
we would learn his name, we would never forget it.
The Rodney King beating was the unveiling of the underbelly
of the Los Angeles Police Department and the testing
of the so-called “colorblind” criminal justice system.
the cops and the courts failed the public scrutiny
test. The cops that beat King were put on trial, and
the court system failed to prosecute them. The justice
system upheld injustice.
live Rodney King - not for six small words, but for
one BIG sacrifice
the law failed Rodney, the community failed to respect
the law and the worse riot in American history ensued.
Everybody in Los
Angeles was failed that day. For six days. To stop
the murder and mayhem (after the police pulled out
of most parts of the city), somebody got the idea
to bring out Rodney King to ask the rioters to stop.
King, confused, disoriented - which he always seemed
to be since the beating - stammered those six famous
words, “Can’t we all just get along.” Los Angeles began to calm down after that, but this is NOT what Rodney
King should be known for. Nor should he be known as
the source of the riots that bear his name. Rodney
King should be known as the cause for revamping policing
and racial profiling practices, not just in Los Angeles but in the United States of America. Consider this…
the 1992 riots broke out, LAPD had a police chief
more powerful than the Mayor of Los Angeles. He had
more votes on the City Council then the Mayor had.
They tried to fire him by council vote, and couldn’t.
They couldn’t make him retire. He couldn’t
even be shamed into retiring - LAPD had no shame.
He agreed to retire after he fixed the problem.
Nobody had confidence that he could. The federal government
was called in, a commission was assembled to study
LAPD, now famously known as the Christopher Commission
Report (named after former Secretary of State, Warren
Christopher) and the report was scathing. The report
told us what our youth had been telling us for a decade,
that the department had covered up misconduct and
abuse - something that never would have been
uncovered had the Rodney King beating not have come
to the public’s attention. Intimidation was too great,
and the culture was too pervasive.
LAPD had no oversight - nobody to report to - and
had managed to avoid federal oversight for decades.
LAPD now has an Inspector General and commission oversight
to insure that there is no return of the abuse culture.
Some say it’s creeping back - but hopefully it will
never reach the point where it was. The Rodney King
beating became the “teaching moment” for other “big
city” and urban departments. Policing has changed
in America due to God putting his hand on Rodney
King. Rodney King’s last public appearance in Los Angeles was at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum on May 25th. He
still looked confused, disoriented and somewhat emotionally
fragile. But the community ignored all that. Rodney
King was still standing, and had taken down
the monster we once knew as the Los Angeles Police
Department. For that, over 400 people gave him a rousing
standing ovation. And just that quickly, now he’s
King is now an American lexicon, the tag for police
abuse - as in “I’ve been Rodney Kinged.” But more than that, Rodney King will be known as
the man who survived the most brutal beating the nation
had ever witnessed. King’s beating brought
justice back to policing, if not just for a short
time. The LAPD we know today is not the one we knew
two decades ago.
King should be known as the cause for revamping policing
and racial profiling practices
King didn’t choose to become a symbol of justice,
and never really seemed to be quite comfortable with
the fame (or infamy) thrust upon him. He wasn’t a
perfect man, but God always uses imperfect people
to carry out perfect missions. Sometimes, those who
seek publicity never get it and those who don’t -
sometimes become part of a history they couldn’t avoid.
It would be tragic if all Rodney King was remembered
for was a stammering epilogue in the most expensive
urban revolt in history. He should be remembered for
changing the reality of urban policing. And for uncovering
the corruption that so many of us knew existed but
could never prove.
God bless the soul of Rodney King, for his reward
is surely a name the people will never forget. Long live Rodney King - not for six small words, but
for one BIG sacrifice.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad,
is a national columnist, managing director of the
Urban Issues Forum
and author of
Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Twitter @dranthonysamad. Click
to contact Dr. Samad.