The Spectre of Rodney King

By now, I think we’ve all seen these videos.  Just for good measure, watch them again.

They look pretty straightforward, right?  Simple.  Police officers abusing their authority and assaulting innocent people.  We’ve seen it before.  It needs to stop, doesn’t it?

If that’s what you think, you need to dig deeper.  The media would love to have you believe that’s the truth about these two incidents, and they’ve played it that way (particularly the New York Post).  What you don’t see could change everything about what you think of both incidents.

What about this one?  It came out some time ago:

Seems just as straightforward as the other two.  This one was the LAPD, the same organization involved in the Rodney King beating.  But what really happened with Rodney King?

In 1992, I was living in Houston and I remember to this day watching the news of the LA riots on TV.  I didn’t know much at first, but pretty soon Rodney King became the name that rolled off the tongue of every black kid in my school that made trouble.  Rodney King became a social icon, and if you’d asked him before it happened if he wanted it, he’d likely have been too keyed up on crack to give an intelligent response.

LAPD officers tried to pull King over for speeding one night and King refused to pull over.  After some time, several cruisers finally got him pulled over; the man was so high on different drugs that he was behaving erratically.  Nearby, a man named George Holliday–who’d never used a camcorder and was playing with a brand new one–was watching everything go down, trying to get the thing working.  He caught 81 seconds of footage.  We only saw 68 seconds: the part where King was being beaten.  The shortenend video galvanized a nation into believing that the LAPD was staffed entirely by thugs bent on strongarming the public into submission.

What you didn’t see, though, could have changed your perception.  And the media knew it.

Holliday called the LAPD, and they blew him off.  So instead he took it to local news station KTLA; they showed it to police and the police said it was authentic.  So, doing what reporters do (because they’re sooooo un-biased, right?), they clipped the first 13 and final few seconds of the video and played the part that they knew would earn the ratings.  They knew it would create an outrage, and it was something they were quite well-versed in.  They got their wish.

But before the tape rolled, King fought the officers at the scene.  He charged and tackled several and was tazed twice.  At first, LAPD officers (along with the CHP officers who originally tried to pull him over) asked him to submit, but he wagged his ass at a female officer.  Four officers ended up trying to put handcuffs on him, but he effortlessly threw them off.  He was well over six feet tall–he was a big dude.  Then he was tazed, and that did nothing.  Finally, while he charged Officer Powell, Holliday turns the camera on.  But you didn’t see the part where King attacked Powell.  That would’ve cast doubt on the rest of the video.  And yes, the original video did catch that sequence, but you’re hard-pressed to find the whole thing now.  And you never see the beginning when King shook off everything else they threw at him in a concerted effort to take him into custody without harming him.

The problem is that everyone saw it with their emotions rather than their intellect.  So many people saw this short video clip and saw what the editors wanted them to see; they saw something that angered them, a gang of police officers beating a man for no reason.  They never saw what lead up to it, and never thought there might be more to it than what they were given. 

So before you pass judgement on the videos above, ask a few questions.

In the first video, all you see is an officer and a bicyclist–who, by the way, was part of Critical Mass, which was carrying out a protest and causing massive headaches for NYPD–colliding.  What happened before that?  Did another officer up the road radio down to fellow officers to arrest him for assaulting someone?  Who is the bicyclist, and was he wanted for something?  Did he flash a weapon at someone? 

In the second video, you can’t claim racism; both the offender and the baton-wielding officer are black.  So what other motivation would the officer have for doing what he did?  If he’s not a racist, why is he beating the guy?  Take a very close look: the officer’s partner is trying to handcuff the man, and the offender refuses to put his hands behind his back.  He might not be fighting violently, but he’s struggling against arrest.  The officers are trained to protect their weapons, so they have to get this man in handcuffs.  They are both repeatedly ordering the man to stop fighting, and the man is refusing.  And while the bystanders are shouting, “take pictures of his legs!”  The guy is moaning about his ARM.  That wasn’t what was hit. 

And in the LAPD video, it’s the same type of thing.  They’re trying to take a criminal into custody, and he’s fighting them.  He’s refusing their repeated orders to stop struggling and give them his hands. 

What is an officer supposed to do in these situations?  Are they supposed to just say please, as if the bad guy is gonna give up to someone who’s being nice?  Should they simply allow the bad guy to beat and/or kill them, so we can spend millions of dollars later on to cry about it and say it should never happen and give the scumbag more rights than we have in a farce of a trial where he can get off on a technicality and continue to commit crimes?  Maybe kill someone else?

People don’t think clearly when they see these things.  There’s always two or three sides to a story.  One person might describe a situation as calm, and another might say it was chaotic.  I see things like that happen in my daily life, and it has taught me to approach these things very cautiously, reserving judgment for the whole picture.  And we all know the media will never give us that.

So before you allow these snippets to paint a picture for you, think carefully about what else might answer the questions you have.  You may very well cause more problems than you solve by allowing your emotional gut response to rule your reaction.

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2 thoughts on “The Spectre of Rodney King

  1. “So before you allow these snippets to paint a picture for you, think carefully about what else might answer the questions you have. ”

    I agree. I am with Judy Judy when she says, “If something doesn’t make sense then it usually isn’t true.”

    It makes no sense for a police officer to start beating any person for the sport of it. So, police officers rarely beat people for the sport of it.

  2. The ethos of the police anymore is SUBMIT or DIE. WE are the authority. SUBMIT

    Militarization of the police is rampant, nazi like tactics are used to shoot innocent grandmothers… I am a conservative with a PROFOUND distrust for the police.

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