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Rodney King’s plea echoes today

June 19, 2012
The Journal

In 1991 Rodney King was the focus of a turning point in police-minority relations, and the unwilling spark for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation's history.

But today, after King drowned in the swimming pool behind his Los Angeles home, he will be remembered for the simple question he asked in the midst of the rioting and violence: "Can we all get along?"

He was a man who had a right to be angry and defiant. In March 1991, on parole for a robbery conviction, he tried to outrun police during a traffic stop. When he was caught, four Los Angeles police officers beat him 50 times with their nightsticks, kicked him and tased him. He suffered 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.

Nothing would probably have come of that, if a nearby resident hadn't stepped outside with a video camera to record the disturbance. The resulting tape, released to the news media, outraged the country and led to charges against the four officers, who were acquitted by an all-white jury a year later. That sparked the three-day Los Angeles riots, a melee that left 55 dead.

King had no desire to be the face of victims of police brutality. He didn't want the violence. His question, to news media who wanted his reaction, was simple and heartfelt, and led many to ask the same question.

King wrote an autobiography, in which he described his reluctant fame. He wrote, "We may be scarred and we may not be able to forget, but we can keep going, one step at a time, until we get to a better place."

Rodney King may be in a better, more peacful now. His question still echoes, though: "Can we all get along?"



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