When the verdict was announced, one of the most compelling aspects of the case was that it was captured on tape. Back then, it was a rarity. Video cameras were bulky and clunky, not like the convenient camcorders more and more people have built into their smart phones today. The tape of him being beaten by that group of Los Angeles Police Officers was, in my opinion, one of the catalysts of modern-day citizen journalism.
During the riots of Los Angeles, the emotions of callers- black and white- were raw. I wondered if perhaps Philadelphia or other cities might explode with rage and riots over the verdict.
When I received the news of Rodney King’s death today, a reporter from the Associated Press who I had interviewed 20 years ago about the Rodney King trial called me for my thoughts on King’s legacy. I told him the lasting impact was that his beating was caught on tape. Other than the brutality of Bull Connor and his police departmentt during the 1960’s civil rights in Alabama, I could not recall another high-profile incident where footage provided such compelling evidence.
If there was no videotape of the beating, would justice have been served? While some would say that the acquittal and the mistrial of the four L.A. police officers is evidence that justice wasn’t served in Los Angeles, the aftermath had more far-reaching impact. It put race relations and the issue of police brutality at the top of the national conversation. There’s a greater awareness and focus on it, and I do not know if that would have happened if the verdict had been different.
I think that we as a society have made progress. While there are going to be emotional, highly-charged cases like Trayvon Martin, there will be more examples of our society moving forward. I had Rodney King on just a few weeks ago to talk to him about his recently-published autobiography. No one called to challenge the trial or to say he deserved the extreme force of the beating he received at the hands of those police officers. I do not know if that would have been possible twenty years ago.
If you want to view the Associated Press article, then click here.
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