Advertisement

First Person: Reflections On Rodney King's Legacy Through The Eyes Of His Daughter09:48
Download

Play
In this May 1, 1992 file photo, Rodney King makes a statement at a Los Angeles news conference, where he asked for an end to violence. When violent protests over the death of George Floyd reached Los Angeles, people of color expressed heartbreak but not necessarily surprise. They had seen it nearly 30 years ago when riots rocked the city after four white police officers were acquitted of charges in the beating of King. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, File)
In this May 1, 1992 file photo, Rodney King makes a statement at a Los Angeles news conference, where he asked for an end to violence. When violent protests over the death of George Floyd reached Los Angeles, people of color expressed heartbreak but not necessarily surprise. They had seen it nearly 30 years ago when riots rocked the city after four white police officers were acquitted of charges in the beating of King. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, File)

This is part of our hour on the Chauvin trial and 30 years since Rodney King. That hour contains explicit language.


Nearly 30 years before the video of George Floyd's death sparked protests across the nation, there was another video. It captured a brutal police beating of a man named Rodney King.

In March 1991, a local resident filmed a group of Los Angeles police officers beating King with batons. The video went on Los Angeles television and then around the world. Four Los Angeles police officers were eventually tried and acquitted in 1992. Los Angeles erupted in riots.

The entire sequence of events, from the night of the beating, to the trial and then the riots, helped shape the nation's understanding of police violence. The events also shaped the life of Lora King, Rodney King's middle daughter.

LORA KING: It's part of my life. It's something that I will never, ever be able to escape from. It's something that was in my 12th grade history book. And it's something that will be part of history to my children, as well.

MEGHNA: Lora was seven years old in 1991. To this day, she remembers exactly where she was when she first saw images of police beating her father in the video that shocked the world.

LORA KING: I was watching the news in Montclair, California.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: Dramatic videotape obtained by Channel five News.

LORA KING: Me and my sister were playing.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: Shows what appears to be a group of LAPD officers beating a suspect.

LORA KING: And all of a sudden I look on the screen and they mentioned the name.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: Prior to his release from jail last night. Twenty five year old Rodney King showed his injury to reporters.

LORA KING: And I'm like, he has the same name as my dad. What a coincidence, you know? And then as I looked around and looked at my family's reaction, I put two and two together, like, wait, what's going on? And then my mom yelled, That's Rodney!

ARCHIVAL TAPE: In our review, we find that the officers struck him with batons between 53 and 56 times.

LORA KING: And my heart shattered because right before she said that, I thought to myself, whoever this human is, is no way they can live through that.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: The bruises, broken legs and the scars from the stun guns ... with 50,000 volt shocks.

ARCHIVAL TAPE, Rodney King: After the first three good licks with, you know, one with that shocker and the next with the billy club across the face, I was scared. I was scared. I was scared for my life.

LORA KING: And I just think about often, like and we're often in T-shirts and we've worked out so we know how this is. When you work out and your shirt is like sweaty. Now, imagine that. But being that your own blood. And you're constantly being tased and you're getting yelled at to be still.

Advertisement

ARCHIVAL TAPE: King claims, and several witnesses support him, that he never resisted.

LORA KING: I've never been tased, but I got "whoopings" as a kid. And it's like my mom would be like, be still. Well, you're "whooping" me. How am I going to be still? Because my nerves are going to have a reaction.

ARCHIVAL TAPE, Rodney King: I kneeled to my knees and spread my hands out and hit the ground as slow as I could because I didn't want to make any stupid moves because I'm already wondering, like, why are these guys, why are they drawing down on me?

LORA KING: And I can't run from that videotape. That's something that I can't escape from because that comes out in regular conversation. I could be anywhere. And so that's the part that bothers me to actually watch a human being cry for his life, let alone it just so happened to be my father.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: Against the growing national furor over last weekend's police shooting of an unarmed Black motorist, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates said today that all 14 officers involved will be disciplined and that three will face criminal charges.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: The officers, we believe, used excessive force in taking him into custody.

LORA KING: Some of the egos that the officers, not all of them, because some of them, I feel like they were remorseful, but I felt like a few of them were a little ego-based. And it was like, Come on, you know, we didn't do anything wrong kind of thing. And for a child to watch that, it's kind of heartbreaking because we live in a world that says, you know, all men are created equal. But in fact, we have to ask ourselves, are they? Are they created equal, or are we just saying that just to make people feel better? Because in my eyes, they were conducting themselves like nothing was wrong.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: The evidence is new. It's dramatic, and it's devastating to those Los Angeles police officers involved in the March 3rd beating of that Black motorist. The incident, as you've no doubt seen, was videotaped ...

LORA KING: My grandfather that I lived with was a Los Angeles sheriff and he was a right is right, wrong is wrong type of person. He didn't say, well, he's Black, give them a break. Or, he's white. He didn't think like that. So for me, it was a little hard to watch because it wasn't making sense to me.

ARCHIVAL TAPE: The police communications released today included regular radio transmissions as well as computer messages between police cars. One of the two officers who wielded batons that evening relayed a message after the arrest to another car saying, quote, Sounds almost as exciting as our last call. It was right out of Gorillas of the Mist. Response: Ha, ha.

LORA KING: And I have to question myself ... how many Rodney Kings have they done this to? How many that didn't get a videotape?

ARCHIVAL TAPE: Car one again: Oops, I haven't beaten anyone this bad in a long time. Car two responds: Oh, no, not again. I thought you agreed to chill out for a while.

LORA KING: You know, even though my dad lived through the incident, 90% of him died that night. You know, people are like, Well at least he lived. No, he didn't actually. He was never the same. He lived with excruciating pain for the rest of his life, as well as a fractured skull. So then you're forced to live with this name Rodney King and of course, get a job. Well, who could get a job? Because everybody knows that name. Everybody knows that name.

LORA KING: I always try to be like a spark of light around my dad because I knew he was dealing with a lot all the time. So I never personally talked about the incident. I think the first time I talk about the incident with him was when he was on Celebrity Rehab. And Dr. Drew asked, are you guys embarrassed of your dad? And I'm like, no way. Like what? And my dad looked like he was in shock. Like he was surprised that we weren't. And I'm like, absolutely not.

LORA KING: I feel like we failed my dad. We failed my father as a human being for the simple fact that he should have been given mental health for the rest of his life as well as any other African American or white, or Black, or Asian, or fat, skinny, blue, green person that's been beaten by the police. They should be given mental health for the rest of their life. This is not a temporary Band-Aid. They will never be the same.

LORA KING: Of course, my father's beating is everywhere on social media, but at the time it was just a videotape that they would show over and over. In this case, George Floyd's case. It's everywhere. It's on Instagram. It's on Facebook. It's on Google. It's on YouTube. My first thoughts were, I wonder, does he have children? I wonder how old they are. And I thought to myself, like his kids, they have to live the rest of their lives watching their dad being murdered over and over and over again. And I was watching the video thinking, I wonder if my dad's still living. Well, there was a little life moving because he was still scrambling for his life. So there was the movement.

LORA KING: But in their case, they see him. He knew that it was over. That's why he called for his mother who was deceased. Most people that are getting ready to take their last breath, they call for a person that's dead already. And to me, it saddens me that that man knew he was dying because he said it over and over, I'm out of here, I'm out of here, which means I'm dying. He still didn't get up.

LORA KING: And for me, it's like. It's really sad because he never got up. He never got up, and he died. And they just rolled them over, they rolled them over and said that, you know, he took opium. But the truth is, it doesn't matter when he took. A Black man's life is not a state of emergency around here, it's just another birth certificate and death certificate. That's it.

LORA KING: I feel like America has learned hashtags. That's basically it, but no, honestly, I'm going to tell you this, I am hopeful because I've seen something last year that I've never seen before, and that's different nationalities being fed up. That's different nationalities speaking up like, Hey, no, no, no, this is wrong. These people don't deserve this. And that gives me hope.


In this diary ... we hear from:

Lora King, the daughter of the late Rodney King. She's also CEO of the Rodney King Foundation.

This segment aired on April 16, 2021.

Anna Bauman Producer/Director, On Point
Anna Bauman is a producer and director at On Point.

More…

Tim Skoog Sound Designer and Producer, On Point
Tim Skoog is a sound designer and producer for On Point.

More…

Advertisement

Advertisement