Much of black history involves discrimination, beatings, and death. Currently, there’s a movement to get away from that in media depiction of black folks. I understand it, but I also think this history is relevant to today’s discussion of race issues. Why? So many people don’t understand why we are where we are right now. With that in mind, I would be remiss not to highlight the original Trayvon of my childhood.
The 90s were a wild time. Fresh off the crack epidemic and the beginning of Reagan’s
mass incarceration of black people War on Drugs black folks were just trying to make it. Enter Rodney King. Rodney wasn’t anyone famous. He was just a regular black man living life. In one day all of that changed.
On March 3, 1991, King was driving with Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms. The three had been watching basketball and drinking at a friend’s house. King was speeding down Foothill Freeway when he was signaled to pull over by California Highway Patrol. Under parole, King refused and a high speed chase ensued. By the end of the chase, the LAPD had been summoned. Officers Stacey Koon, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano arrived first on the scene. And they proceeded to beat the brakes off King!
King suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and multiple cuts/bruises. Nurses reported that the officers accompanying King to the hospital openly bragged how much they had hit him. I must interject. Getting whipped by the police is absolutely nothing new to the black community. It’s been going on since the inception of the police force and the rise of the Klan. Black people have been screaming about police brutality for literally a century before this. But this one was different. Why?
It was all caught on video.
George Holliday got his video camera and recorded the beating. He then sent the video in to a local news station, KTLA. The video went viral before going viral was conceivable. The entire nation was fixated on this case. As King was never charged with evasion of the police and the statute of limitations had passed on the DUI, the tape forced the officers to go to trial for their actions. Surprise surprise, they were acquitted on all accounts of assault use of excessive force. This set off one of the wildest riots in my lifetime.
Why would this be significant in black history?
This was the first time the entire country could verifiably see black people’s complaints or police brutality. It’s also the first time I saw people vehemently reject that the police would have done anything wrong. Just like I would see years later with Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Rekia Boyd. A throng of excuses on why everything occurred the way it should have from people tucked away in their bubble. Rodney was different, though. In the midst of it all the rioting Mr. King uttered the now famous phrase, “Can we all just get along?”
Calling for peace in chaos. That’s what we do.