Rodney King: The Trial That Shook the Nation

Rodney King: The Trial That Shook the Nation

As the recent events of the Derek Chauvin trial have taken place for the murder of George Floyd, I couldn’t help but get an eerie feeling that history would repeat itself. Anxiousness set in day in and day out as the nation awaited updates throughout the day. Families wondered if justice would prevail and if we would finally be able to breathe after the treacherous events that had taken place a year prior. This same feeling was very reminiscent of a horrifying event that happened 30 years prior, the brutal beating of Rodney King.

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King shook the nation, but not in the way one would expect. Around 12:30 am two officers (Melaine and Tim Singer) noticed King’s vehicle was speeding along the freeway. This led to the officers pursuing King with lights and sirens eventually turning into a 117 mph high-speed chase. King’s refusal to pull over due to intoxication does not justify what occurred next. Once the officers finally caught up to King and his friends Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms, they were ordered to exit the vehicle and lay faced down on the pavement. Both Allen and Helms sustained injuries from the police while being apprehended. Helms a laceration at the top of his head, and Allen’s claims of being stomped, manhandled, kicked, and threatened. Yet these were only minor infractions in comparison to the brutality that King endured. 

It was reported that King exited the vehicle giggling, waving to the overhead helicopter, and patting the pavement once on the ground. King grabbed his buttocks in which Officer Melanie Singer thought he was reaching for a weapon, and in return drew hers onto him. It was later discovered that he was unarmed. The ranking officer Stacey Koon commanded that everyone holster their weapons and subdue King by using a technique called “swarm” to handcuff him. This is where multiple officers grab a suspect with empty hands, to overcome potential resistance quickly. The officers stated that King resisted arrest whereas King and witnesses said he did not. In the George Holliday video, you can see King being tasered by the police. As he rises towards Officer Laurence Powell with taser wires on his body, King and Powell collide that results in King being struck by a baton and knocked to the ground. Powell continues to strike King until Officer Theodore Briseno moves in attempting to block him. It was only then Koon ordered Powell to stand down. Each time King tried to reemerge himself to his knees, he was continuously beaten by Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno by the order of Stacey Koon. This resulted in 33 baton strikes and 7 kicks to King causing severe injuries. King suffered multiple bruises and lacerations, a broken right ankle, and a fractured facial bone. In addition to the physical injuries King also suffered severe emotional trauma after the beating. 

Once Holliday’s video of King’s beating was released by KTLA, outrage swept the nation. The video became an instant media sensation airing multiple times, which left people in disbelief that such horrible events had taken place. The officers were charged with assault and excessive use of force by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. The jury was composed of ten white people, one biracial person, one Latino person, and one Asian American. Anxiousness set in as the nation waited for the results of the trial. On April 29, 1992, after seven days of deliberation, the jury acquitted all four officers. The nation went into an uproar which resulted in numerous riots in Los Angeles as well as other cities across the country. The Los Angeles Riots lasted six days and resulted in 63 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. After the initial acquittal and riots, a second trial took place in 1993 where the officers were federally indicted by The United States Department of Justice. While this trial had a hopeful outcome for King, only two of the officers were found guilty sentenced to 30 months in prison, while the others were acquitted of all charges. 

King sued the city and was awarded $3.8 million a small price in comparison to the physical and emotional trauma he faced. Unfortunately, in the aftermath King faced numerous obstacles as a result of this incident. In April 2012, he published a memoir titled The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption telling the story of his troubled childhood and the brutality that would change his life forever. Shortly after, on June 17, 2012, King was found unresponsive in his swimming pool as a result of an accidental drowning. As we continue to face multiple challenges regarding police brutality and murders, we are often brought back to Rodney King’s trial where many of us were first exposed to these heinous crimes on a national level. Since King, there have been several others who have lost their lives at the hands of the police. While I am glad about the recent guilty verdict of George Floyd’s murderer, it is a bittersweet moment as I reflect upon the other families who didn’t have the same outcome. We have a long way to go in this fight, but I remain hopeful for a change. We will continue to say their names. 

Leave a comment

Send a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *