Los Angeles marks 30 years since the Rodney King beating by police

Race in America

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — The Rodney King case spark substantial change within police departments across the United States. It changed the nation’s attitudes toward police brutality when four white Los Angeles Police Department officers beat King, a Black man, on March 3, 1991.

The entire incident was caught on camera, and the footage would be seen across the globe. It started a national conversation about racism in America that is still going on today. Some believe not enough has changed.

There are no signs of its sad significance at the intersection of Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Lake View Terrace neighborhood. 

Lonnie Pratt, 54, grew up in the neighborhood and was training for a security job when NewsNation affiliate KTLA obtained home video of the police beating of King on this day 30 years ago.

“I just got my security guard permit, and I went to baton training, so I knew every time they hit him, they was breaking something,” Pratt said. “Ugh, ugh, every time they hit him, I was like, ‘whoa.’”

The footage sparked immediate outrage as the world watched several LAPD officers beat and kick King for about 15 minutes.

“I thought they were gonna kill me, that’s what I thought after they tied me up like that, handcuffed me, I thought I was gonna die,” King said

The brutality left King with multiple injuries, including a fractured skull.

On the night it happened, he was out on parole for robbery and had led police on a high-speed chase.

Longtime Lake View Terrace residents remember that night and still have strong opinions.

“He was disregard police, chase, and non-compliant. But they also overuse their power in beating him badly,” said Matt Diad, a Lake View Terrace resident. “He was there, handcuffed and everything. That’s enough.”

Civil rights advocates say the footage was perhaps the first viral video to change perceptions.

“That was the first death knell to sort of, policing with impunity. The public began to question what the Black public had always questioned. And it became unignorable,” civil rights attorney Connie Rice explained.

Author Joe Domanick has written extensively about the ongoing reforms within the LAPD.

“The story still needs to be written about how reformers and politicians and good cops, and there are a lot of them, are going to find a way to work together to make the change that Rodney King showed us so desperately needs to be made,” Domanick said.

King’s beating triggered a more dark history a year later when all four officers were acquitted on assault charges. 

Several days of rioting, burning, looting and violence led to more than 50 deaths and 2,000 injuries. It was a public plea from King that helped to bring a stop to the rioting.

“I just want to say, you know, can we all get along,” King said.

King’s case has forever changed public reaction to police incidents. Now, in the age of modern technology, more incidents of police brutality and deaths have been documented on smartphones.

George Floyd, a Black man who was in handcuffs at the time, died May 25, 2020, after a white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes even as Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Widely seen bystander video sparked protests in the city, including some violent riots and arson, and quickly spread around the country.

“The sad part about it is those are only the cases that you know about; those are the cases that people happen to have a camera,” said Ronnell Faniel, a Lake View Terrace resident. “Probably hundreds of thousands, millions of cases where no one had a camera. Someone on a dark street.”

Today, the LAPD is far more diverse, but the department acknowledges that more change is needed.

“There’s still work to be done; I think that’s always the case,” said Robert Arcos, a former LAPD assistant chief. “Being transparent and building trust takes a lot of work.”

“Has policing changed? Yes. Has it reached the street, and can neighborhoods see it and feel it? No. Why? Because the mission has not changed from shock and awe, mass incarceration, search and destroy, stop and frisk enforcement,” Rice said.

A recent analysis by The Los Angeles Times found that LAPD officers continue to stop and search people of color at far higher rates than whites.

Rodney King died at the age of 47 in an accidental drowning in 2012. In a KTLA interview a few months earlier, he poignantly recalled his words of peace.

“Can we all just get along? Yeah, you know, it’s a good thing to be remembered. After I’m dead and gone, it’s a good thing for people to remember me by, can we all just get along.”

Rodney King in 2012

Among the LAPD changes implemented, term limits on police chiefs and more officer training on de-escalation. On Sunday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to direct more money toward policing alternatives and homeless prevention.

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