Rodney King: The Riots, The Movement, And What Eventually Killed Him

By | June 4, 2020

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Activist Jasmine Cannock addresses a crowd of reporters and listeners at a memorial for Rodney King on June 19, 2012. (Neon Tommy/Wikimedia Commons)

In the early '90s, you couldn't own a mobile phone unless you also owned at least one diamond mine, and phones that could record video were a science-fiction fantasy. As a result, police brutality and wrongdoing often went undocumented and unpunished, as it was the (often viewed as uncredible) victim's word against the officer's. That's why the beating of Rodney King, which a bystander miraculously did manage to capture on video, became such an incendiary moment in history. For the first time, the national spotlight was on the use of excessive force by police, particularly when dealing with black suspects.

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A civilian video captured police officers severely beating Rodney King. (

The Crime

Rodney King, a construction worker on parole, left a friend's house on the evening of March 3, 1991 after watching a basketball game and drinking with his buddy. King had had a little too much to drink, so when the police lights came on behind him, he tried to cut the officers loose with the hope of avoiding punishment for violating the terms of his parole. With the LAPD in pursuit, King reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. When he finally stopped his car, the police ordered him to exit his vehicle.