Opinion: Rodney King's impact
Sunday, June 24, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle on Rodney King:
Rodney King was a most unlikely — and imperfect — symbol for this nation's unfinished business with civil rights. On March 3, 1991, he was doing what he did all too often in his troubled life: He was breaking the law, driving 100 mph with law enforcement in hot pursuit.
King, who died last Sunday at age 47, forever will be remembered as the man whose brutal beating at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers shredded anyone's illusion about this nation's state of race relations. The grainy videotape was a "gotcha" moment for African Americans and other minorities whose complaints of the routine indignities they experience from law enforcement tended to fall on deaf ears from a society in denial.
The rage on Los Angeles' streets that followed the acquittal of the officers the following year — by a Simi Valley jury that included no African Americans — stunned many Americans who were oblivious to the tensions of race and class that existed outside their comfortable communities. More than 50 people were killed and 600 buildings destroyed in the six days of riots — which some people to this day insist should be called "the insurrection."
It was left to King, showing signs of speech impairment from the beating, to offer the defining appeal for calm as the city burned: "Can we all get along?"
The verdicts and riots led to searing national introspection about race relations, about police procedures and the pain and perils of income inequality. In the ensuing years, King never quite found peace or vanquished the demons that brought him to a moment that jarred and divided us in those difficult days of 1992.
Neither has this nation.