An American legend has died.
Some may disagree with me, but how can Rodney King be called anything less than a legend?
When King’s horrific beating by police officers was caught on tape and publicized, I remember feeling a glimmer of hope. All along there had been cries of police brutality in the African-American community, but nobody would listen. The prevailing thought seemed to be that black people were just …bad people…and the good officers were only doing their jobs with a people who had to be tamed.
No matter how loud the groundswell was from any particular community about what police were doing, nobody would listen. There seemed to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that what police did in black communities would remain in black communities, cries of injustice and excessive violence notwithstanding.
It made the black community feel invisible.
But with the video of King’s beating …I, and, I am sure, many others, felt like a just society would see. A justice system interested in justice would see; police departments all over the country would see; American citizens who were all too eager to write the black community off as troublemakers would see.
That belief spawned hope. Now it wouldn’t be “our” word against “theirs.” In a land where it was promised that there would be “liberty and justice for all,” justice would now come to the white officers who were caught on tape.
That was wishful thinking, however, and it really should be no surprise that after the officers were acquitted that there was a backlash. If it was that not even a video which showed what African-Americans had talked about for so long that would shake the foundations of excessive force so often used by police on African-Americans, then what would work?
King’s beating represented a raisin in the sun, a raisin of hope which exploded in a thousand fragments as that hope was dashed.
King didn’t set out to become a legend, but what happened to him thrust the issue of police violence, police brutality, into the spotlight. He became a legend by default. What happened to him, and how the justice system really ignored what was on that tape, became fodder for those whose social justice focus is police brutality. I am not quite sure how much progress has been made, but for certain, the awareness of what happens on the streets with too many citizens and police officers was heightened by King’s unfortunate experience.
Lots has been said about King’s demons. He never did really get his life under control if media accounts are to be believed. Drugs and alcohol were constant companions, and he was able to squander millions of dollars awarded to him after his beating. Everyone knows about that.
But what we may not know, or may not want to admit, is that King is a part of the American fabric, a thread in the cloth that nobody wanted in the cloth, most especially powers that be that have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.
King’s beating, and the subsequent acquittal of those officers, made a dent in a long-sanctioned system of police brutality, and that really does make him a legend.
A candid observation …