It’s hard to say just when police brutality against people of color came to mainstream attention, but the acquittal of the officers that beat Rodney King nearly to death in 1991 is a safe bet. We remember the Los Angeles Riots.
After a high-speed chase through the San Fernando Valley in California, officers finally caught up to King, who refused to cooperate with the officers arresting him. What happened next became one of the first great examples of the power of technology against police brutality: the whole beating was filmed by a man named George Holiday. King suffered “11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney failure [and] emotional and physical trauma.” While this was FAR from the first time police brutality was used against people of color (by a long shot), it was one of the first times an incident like this got the attention of the nation.
And then the officers were acquitted. And the Los Angeles Riots began.
The Los Angeles Riots
The officers were charged with excessive use of force and assault, and the case went to court. Minority leaders in LA organized protests, bringing even more awareness to just how commonplace beatings of this sort were. And when the verdict for the officers came back as not guilty, the gauntlet had been thrown down.
The mayor of LA announced that while the act was a crime, the reaction should not be to strike back blindly. However, that did nothing to stop the Los Angeles riots. Over 55 people died and 2000 people were injured. The Los Angeles Riots didn’t end until about 6 days later when the California national guard stepped in.
The Los Angeles Riots had massive consequences. Korean-owned businesses were targeted disproportionately by looters. Rioters hurt many innocent people and destroyed property and stole. But the riots brought awareness to the United States that violence against people of color was (and still is) a huge problem.
Police brutality against people of color is familiar news to anyone who has an internet connection. But the Rodney King tapes of the Los Angeles Riots that came after were steps towards accountability to the police and sent a clear message that the police could no longer beat people in the dark. The world would know what they did.
We have a long way to go. Police brutality still happens. But people now know what goes on. The police can’t hurt people in secret nearly as easily. The Los Angeles Riots were tragic, but they marked the beginning of a change.