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Rodney King
Born April 2, 1965 (1965-04-02) (age 44)
Sacramento, California
Nationality American
Known for Victim of police brutality

Rodney Glen King (born April 2, 1965) was the subject of police brutality by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers on March 3, 1991. A bystander, George Holliday, videotaped much of the incident from a distance.

The footage showed LAPD officers repeatedly striking King with their batons. A portion of this footage was aired by news agencies around the world, causing public outrage that raised tensions between the black community and the LAPD and increased anger over police brutality and social inequalities in Los Angeles.

Four LAPD officers were later tried in a state court for the beating but were acquitted. The announcement of the acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. A later federal trial for civil rights violations ended with two of the officers found guilty and sent to prison and the other two officers acquitted.



High speed chase

On the night of March 2, 1991, King and two passengers, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms, were driving west on Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. The three men had spent the night watching a basketball game and drinking at a friend’s house in Los Angeles.[1] After being tested 5 hours after the incident, King's blood-alcohol level was found to be just under the legal limit. This meant that his blood alcohol level was approximately 0.19—nearly two and a half times the legal limit in California—when he was driving.[2] At 12:30 AM, Officers Tim and Melanie Singer, a husband-and-wife team of the California Highway Patrol, spotted King’s car speeding. The Singers pursued King, and the subsequent freeway chase reached speeds in excess of 100 mph.[3] According to King’s own statements, he refused to pull the car over because a DUI would violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction.[4]

King exited the freeway, and the chase continued through residential streets at speeds allegedly ranging from 55 to 80 mph.[5][6] By this point, several police cars and a helicopter had joined in the pursuit. After approximately eight miles, officers cornered King’s car. The first five LAPD officers to arrive at the scene were: Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano.


Highway Patrolman Tim Singer ordered King and his two passengers to exit the vehicle and lie face down on the ground. The two passengers complied and were taken into custody without incident.[1] King initially remained in the car. When he finally did emerge, he acted bizarrely: giggling; patting the ground; and waving to the police helicopter overhead.[6] King then grabbed his buttocks. Highway Patrol Officer Melanie Singer momentarily thought he was reaching for a gun.[7] She drew her gun and pointed it at King, ordering him to lie on the ground. King complied. Singer approached King with her gun drawn, preparing to make the arrest.

At this point, Sergeant Stacey Koon intervened and ordered Singer to holster her weapon. LAPD officers are taught not to approach a suspect with a drawn gun, as there is a risk of the suspect gaining control of it if they get too close.[8] Koon then ordered the four other LAPD officers at the scene—Briseno, Powell, Solano, and Wind—to subdue and handcuff King in a manner called a "swarm," a technique that involves multiple officers grabbing a suspect with empty hands. As the officers attempted to do so, King physically resisted. King rose up, tossing Officers Powell and Briseno off his back. King then allegedly struck Officer Briseno in the chest.[9] Seeing this, Koon ordered all of the officers to fall back. The officers later testified that they believed King was under the influence of the dissociative drug phencyclidine (PCP),[10] although King's toxicology results tested negative for PCP.[11]

Use of the taser

Sergeant Koon then ordered the officers to "stand clear". King was standing and was not responding to Koon's commands. Koon then fired a Taser into King's back. King groaned; momentarily fell to the ground; then stood back up. Koon fired the Taser again, knocking King to the ground.[9] Powell's arrest report states that the Taser "temporarily halt[ed] deft's [King's] attack", and Solano stated that the Taser appeared to affect King at first because "the suspect shook and yelled for almost five seconds".[12]

Beating with batons: events on the Holliday video

Screenshot of footage of King beaten by LAPD officers on March 3, 1991

As George Holliday's videotape begins, King is on the ground. He rose and moved toward Powell. Solano termed it a "lunge", and said it was in the direction of Koon.[12] From the videotape it is impossible to tell whether the movement is intended as an attack or simply an effort to get away.[citation needed] At this time taser wires can be seen coming from King's body. As King moved forward Officer Powell then struck King with his baton, the blow hit King's head knocking him to the ground immediately.[13] Powell hit King several additional times with his baton. The videotape shows Briseno moving in to try and stop Powell from swinging, and Powell then backing up. Koon reportedly yelled "that's enough". King then rose to his knees: Powell and Wind continued to hit King with their batons while he was on the ground.[14]

Koon acknowledged that he ordered the baton blows, directing Powell and Wind to hit King with "power strokes". According to Koon, Powell and Wind used "bursts of power strokes, then backed off". Notwithstanding the repeated "power strokes", the videotape shows King apparently continued to try and get up. Koon ordered the officers to "hit his joints, hit the wrists, hit his elbows, hit his knees, hit his ankles".[14] Finally, after 56 baton blows and six kicks, five or six officers swarmed in and placed King in both handcuffs and cordcuffs restraining his arms and legs. King was dragged on his stomach to the side of the road to await arrival of a rescue ambulance.[14]

Unseen by those involved, the lengthy beating was caught on video by a private citizen, George Holliday, from his apartment near the intersection of Foothill Blvd and Osborne St. in Lake View Terrace.[citation needed] Holliday did not know what he was recording at the time, and only realized later when he played the tape back.[citation needed] He contacted the police about a videotape of the incident but was dismissed. He then went to the news with his videotape.[citation needed] The footage became a media sensation. Portions of it were aired hundreds, if not thousands of times, around the world, and it "turned what would otherwise have been a violent, but soon forgotten, encounter between Los Angeles police and Rodney King into one of the most widely watched and discussed incidents of its kind."[15]

Post-arrest events

King was taken to Pacifica Hospital immediately after his arrest. He suffered a fractured facial bone, and a broken right ankle, and numerous bruises and lacerations.[16] In a negligence claim filed with the City, King alleged he had suffered "11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney damage [and] emotional and physical trauma."[17] Blood and urine samples taken from King five hours after his arrest showed that he could be presumed intoxicated under California law. The tests also showed traces of marijuana (26 ng/ml), but no indication of PCP or any other illegal drug.[17] At Pacifica Hospital, where King was taken for initial treatment, nurses reported that the officers who accompanied King (including Wind) openly joked and bragged about the number of times King had been hit.[18]

Trial of the officers

The Los Angeles district attorney charged officers Koon, Powell, Briseno, and Wind with use of excessive force. While Sergeant Koon did not strike King and had only used the Taser, he was the supervisory officer at the scene and was charged for "willfully permitting and failing to take action to stop the unlawful assault." The initial judge was replaced, and the new judge changed the venue, as well as the jury pool, citing contamination of the jury pool by the media coverage. The new venue was a new courthouse in Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County. The jury consisted of Ventura County residents—ten white, one Latino and one Asian. The prosecutor, Terry White, was African-American. On April 29, 1992, the jury acquitted three of the officers, but could not agree about one of the charges for Powell.[1]

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said, "the jury's verdict will not blind us to what we saw on that videotape. The men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the L.A.P.D."[19]

Los Angeles riots and the aftermath

The news of acquittal triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992. By the time the police, the U.S. Army, the Marines and the National Guard restored order, the casualties included 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damages to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Smaller riots occurred in other cities such as Las Vegas and Atlanta. On May 1, 1992, the third day of the L.A. riots, King appeared in public before television news cameras to appeal for calm, asking:

People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.[20]

Federal trial of officers

After the riots, the United States Department of Justice reinstated investigation and obtained an indictment of violations of federal civil rights against the four officers. The federal trial focused more on the evidence as to the training of officers instead of just relying on the videotape of the incident. On March 9 of the 1993 trial, King took the witness stand and described to the jury the events as he remembered them.[21] The jury found Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon guilty, and they were subsequently sentenced to 30 months in prison, while Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of all charges.

Cultural impact of the event

The video of the beating is an example of inverse surveillance - that is, of citizens watching police. Several copwatch organizations were subsequently organized nationally to safeguard against police abuse, including an umbrella group, October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.[22] The clip to Ministry's song "N.W.O." features a re-enactment of the assault video, substituting a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty for King. The events surrounding the Rodney King trial functioned as background for the Kurt Russell movie "Dark Blue."

After the riots

King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil case and used some of the proceeds to start a hip hop music label, Straight Alta-Pazz Recording Company.[23]

On 29 November 2007, while going home King claimed to have been shot in the face, arms, back and torso with birdshot by two thieves attempting to steal his bicycle.[24] Police were unable to find any suspects or witnesses and his injuries were described as not life-threatening.

Like his father, King is an alcoholic. In 1993, he entered an alcohol rehabilitation program and was placed on probation after crashing his vehicle into a block wall in downtown Los Angeles. In July 1995, he was arrested by Alhambra police, who alleged that he hit his wife with his car, knocking her to the ground. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail after being convicted of hit and run.[24] On August 27, 2003, King was arrested again for speeding and running a red light while under the influence of alcohol. He failed to yield to police officers and slammed his SUV into a house, breaking his pelvis.[25] In May 2008 King checked into the Pasadena Recovery Center in Pasadena, California, which was filmed as part of the second season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which premiered in October 2008. Dr. Drew Pinsky, who runs the facility, showed concern for King's lifestyle and said that King would die unless his addiction was treated.[26] He also appeared on Sober House, a Celebrity Rehab spin-off focusing on a sober living environment, which aired in early 2009. Both shows filmed King's quest to not only achieve sobriety, but to reestablish a relationship with his family, which had been severely damaged due to his drinking.[27]

During his time on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, King worked not only on his addiction, but on the lingering trauma of the beating. He and Dr. Pinsky retraced his path from the night of his beating, eventually reaching the spot where it happened, the site of the Children's Museum of Los Angeles.[28] King was asked to recount some of the details of the event. He recalled that the officers shouted to him from their car during the chase that they intended to beat and kill him as soon as he stopped; that when he did stop, he immediately lay on the ground and surrendered, begging the approaching officers “You don’t have to do this!” as he lay there motionless; that the shots with the Taser were all while he was already prone and compliant; and that the officers repeatedly taunted him during the beating, such as saying they were going to kill him and he should run away.[29]

King won[30] a celebrity boxing match against ex-Chester City (Delaware County, Pennsylvania) police officer Simon Aouad on Friday, September 11, 2009 at the Ramada Philadelphia Airport in Essington, Pennsylvania.[31]

In 2009, King and other alumni of Celebrity Rehab appeared as panel speakers to a new group of addicts at the Pasadena Recovery Center, marking 11 months of sobriety for him. His appearance was aired in the third season episode "Triggers".[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Linder, Douglas (December 2001). "The Rodney King Beating Trials". JURIST. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  2. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 39.
  3. ^ Koon v. United States 518 U.S. 81 (1996)
  4. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 43.
  5. ^ "Seven Minutes in Los Angeles – A special report.; Videotaped Beating by Officers Puts Full Glare on Brutality Issue". The New York Times. March 18, 1991. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  6. ^ a b Whitman, David (May 23, 1993). "US News and World Report: May 23, 1993, The Untold Story of the LA Riot". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  7. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 27.
  8. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 28.
  9. ^ a b Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 31.
  10. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence:
  11. ^ Cannon, Lou (March 16, 1993). "Prosecution Rests Case in Rodney King Beating Trial". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  12. ^ a b "Chapter 1: The Rodney King Beating". Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department: p. 6. 1991.
  13. ^ "Chapter 1: The Rodney King Beating". Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department: p. 7. 1991. "The blow hit King's head, and he went down immediately."
  14. ^ a b c "Chapter 1: The Rodney King Beating". Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department: p. 7. 1991.
  15. ^ The Holliday Videotape
  16. ^ Cannon. Official Negligence: p. 205.
  17. ^ a b "Chapter 1: The Rodney King Beating". Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department: p. 8. 1991.
  18. ^ "Chapter 1: The Rodney King Beating". Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department: p. 15. 1991.
  19. ^ Mydans, Seth (April 30, 1992). "The Police Verdict; Los Angeles Policemen Acquitted in Taped Beating". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  20. ^ Ralph Keyes. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. ISBN 0-312-34004-4.
  21. ^ Mydans, Seth (March 10, 2003). "Rodney King Testifies on Beating: 'I Was Just Trying to Stay Alive'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2009. 
  22. ^ and the ACLU[1] draw connections between the event and the subsequent activities of many organizations.
  23. ^ "Flashback: Rodney King and the L.A riots". BBC News. July 10, 2002.
  24. ^ a b Reston, Maeve (November 30, 2007). "Rodney King shot while riding bike". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  25. ^ "Rodney King slams SUV into house, breaks pelvis". CNN. April 16, 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11. 
  26. ^ TV Guide: page 8. June 23, 2008.
  27. ^ "Sober House Will Follow Celebrity Rehab Cast, Andy Dick in Sober Living". December 19, 2008.
  28. ^ Thompson, Elise. "Rodney King Forgives Officers Who Beat Him — LAist". Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  29. ^ "Full Episode". Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  30. ^ "Rodney King Fight Results". September 12, 2009.
  31. ^ Stamm, Dan (August 19, 2009). "No Plan to 'Get Along' When Rodney King Takes on Former Cop". NBC Philadelphia. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  32. ^ Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew Episode 3.6 ("Triggers") VH1; February 11, 2010


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Rodney Glen King (born April 2, 1965) is an African-American resident of Los Angeles who was violently arrested by officers of the L.A. Police Department. The event was videotaped by a bystander, and the incident raised a public outcry among those who believed it was a racially motivated and gratuitous attack. The acquittal in a state court of the four defendants, charged with using excessive force, provided the spark that led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.


  • People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.
    • King appealing for calm during the Los Angeles riots (May 1, 1992)
  • You know, before when (the police went) to work, they used to be like, 'I'm gonna kick somebody's ass today and so I hope I can catch somebody in a bad situation or breaking the law, because I'm gonna beat someone's ass in a big way, I think that attitude has changed.

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