SENTINEL 5-10-2012
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Rodney King & the Riot Within

20 years since the riots without

Part 1 of 3

The Firpo Files

(Sentinel, May 10, 2012)


"I thought you looked familiar. I saw you on TV defending Michael Jackson! You did a great job!" These were among the first words Rodney King said to me when first we met.

He was at Eso Won Books, L.A.'s legacy Black bookstore, to sign his new cleverly titled book, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption (2012).

It was released to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of what has come to be known as the "Rodney King Riots"--which stemmed from the "Rodney King Incident"; which in turn ignited a firestorm that swept the globe.

Rodney spoke to a standing room only audience, and his book completely sold out.

Surprisingly, when Rodney King's name came up in the Technology in Human Services class I teach at the nation's largest university, several of the younger students--all under age 25--didn't have a clue as to who Rodney King was.

As far as they were concerned, he could've been Martin Luther King's grandson! So, for those of you who weren't yet born, or either were too young to remember, here's a snapshot of what happened:

The Rodney King Incident: On Friday, March 3, 1991, an inebriated Rodney King was clocked at 65 mph on city streets, and apparently even faster on a Southland freeway.

Suddenly, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, and officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), was in hot pursuit. Rodney had served jail time for having pleaded guilty to robbery, and was now on parole. 

"They chased me through city streets for 7.8 miles," writes Rodney, "where [CHP officer Melanie] Singer reported I was topping speeds of 80 mph. the LAPD initially reported fifteen officers involved in the chase.

"Later reports say that there were twenty-one policemen on the scene, and twenty-seven officers in total." When finally joined by a police helicopter, the entire pursuit lasted about 15 minutes.

They frisked him up against his car. When Officer Singer couldn't see one of his hands momentarily, she drew her gun and pointed it at him, after which she commanded him to lay down on the ground.

When she went to handcuff him, Sergeant Stacy C. Koon of the LAPD ordered her to stop. Unexpectedly, "the cops pounced on me, all of them trying to cuff me.

"But that was not their intent, and that was made brutally clear to me when one of the officers suddenly kicked me with his boot in the side of my face, smashing my jaw! It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my head."

Meanwhile, Sgt. Koon sent 50,000 volts through King's blood-drenched body--more than once--with a Taser shock. 

"Before I could register that unbearable pain, one of the other officers slammed me in the lower leg with his baton. I heard a crack and was so damn surprised when that happened that I immediately pleaded with Melanie."

Rodney thought Melanie had "sort of a maternal presence that would not allow things to get too out of control."

But things got way out of control. King was mercilessly beaten.

During the course of the incomprehensible thrashing, a White man, George Holliday, "who lived in an apartment building nearby, was woken up by all the sirens and loud voices.

"He grabbed his new video camera and stepped out onto his balcony." Seeing King on the ground screaming, Holliday started recording.

"If you watch the eighty-one second video," says King, "you'll see that the cops came at me with their batons and hit me more than fifty times." Indeed, the world saw, and was horrified!

After the cruel, callous, cold-blooded beating, Rodney King looked like a gruesome monster; an alien from a distant planet.

They could have easily made a Halloween mask out of his face that would scare the bejesus out of the bravest of men.

When his mother (a devout Christian, one of Jehovah's Witnesses) first visited him in the hospital shortly after the beating, she walked right past him because she didn't recognize him.              

Religious Rodney?: Did Rodney deserve correction? Not to that extent! Though not a Witness himself, he'll be the first to quote Jehovah as saying:

"And I shall have to correct you to the proper degree, as I shall by no means leave you unpunished." (Jeremiah 30:11, New World Translation) What the cops illegally meted out was certainly not "to the proper degree."

Roll with Rodney in Part 2. Stay tuned.