As an administration of justice major at CSM, a topic that interest me was one of the biggest cases of police brutality that has ever happened in the United States and how an event like this will affect the whole nation not just the city where the event took place. People of the United States are outraged over police brutality and police shootings in today’s society. As of today, police misuse has gone to the consideration of the overall population. While people of the United States are watching out for criminals, it has now been demonstrated that they should likewise watch out for individuals who have been given the duty to protect and serve. Police brutality is one of the biggest human rights violations in the United States, and it happens everywhere in the West Coast of this nation to the East Coast, South, and North. The motivation behind why I picked this topic is because police brutality goes on all the time all over the nation and still stays unrecognized by many. African American individuals have suffered brutality in a variety of ways. Today, cops utilize lethal deadly force that leads to shootings and beatings. The introduction of technology such as camera phones and easy access to the media has brought even more attention to this issue: people are able to see the severity of what actually happened, which allows them to develop a personal connection to the victim. Although there is an endless number of cases related to police brutality like the Amadou Diallo case, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and many more this paper will primarily be focusing on one of the biggest that really struck this nation, which is the Rodney King Case.
The documents filed by the FBI explore Rodney King’s case, which opened many people’s eyes to the reality of police brutality. At around 1 A.M in Los Angeles on March 3, 1991, a traffic stop happened that would change history. 25-year-old Rodney King, who was on parole at the time, was pulled over for driving over 100 miles per hour. “Police believed he was on drugs, and they planned to arrest him on the felony charge of evading the police” (FBI, 2013). The officers proceeded to tase King, beat him repeatedly, and kick him when he was already helplessly lying on the ground. He was injured so badly that he had to be transported to the hospital for severe injuries. The officers on the scene can be heard laughing when trying to call for the ambulance (FBI, 2013).
The article ‘Los Angeles in Flames’ by New York Times editor Neil Genzlinger explains that “All four cops were tried and the verdict returned as not guilty of assault in their first trial on April 29, 1992” (Genzlinger, 2017). Three out of the four were acquitted of any excessive force charges, and there was a hung jury for the fourth officer. At least one juror in the case justified their decision by claiming that King was squirming to “get away from the officers”, so she thought the police were justified to use that amount of force. The ruling infuriated the people of Los Angeles, who viewed the incident as a very clear example of police brutality. In turn, riots started breaking out in South Central LA. Police forces believed that their presence would make the situation worse, so they ordered all officers to go out of the area. This basically created a lawless society (which Yale Professor Beverly Gage reported to be historically the biggest domestic problem according to many Americans): everyone that was not African-American was targeted and beaten (Gage, 2016). Rioters started fires, broke anything and everything, and stole from stores. Governor Pete Wilson declared this to be a local State of Emergency and ordered all officers to go on the scene. As the news spread, the riots started spreading to other cities like San Francisco and New Orleans. In addition to over $1 billion of property damages as a result of the riots in Los Angeles, which is one of the worst riots in U.S history to date, there were over 50 people dead, 2,300 people were injured, and over 12,100 people arrested (Wallenfeldt, 2019). This caused pressure on the Los Angeles police department– they did, however, make some changes by adding more diversity to what was then the 60% White force, and the city got a new police chief: Black male Willie L. Williams. CNN writer Rachel Wells confirms this by saying, “More than 60% of the department was white when residents rioted in 1992. Today, it’s just over 30% white” (Wells, 2017). This was a step in the right direction for the police department, but that did not stop the reality of the events that caused all of this.
Rodney King begged for the violence to stop: he did not want people to riot over what happened to him. Since there was so much backlash in regards to the original ruling, officials were able to find a way around double jeopardy laws to try the officers again. Two of the officers involved were eventually found guilty and had to serve 30 months in prison.
Many believe the police involved in Rodney King’s case used an excessive amount of force: a common theme among police brutality cases (Sastry and Grigsby Bates, 2017). United States law affirms that officers should only apply the minimum amount of force necessary to get the suspect under control, but the police continued beating King after he was very clearly unable to fight back (US Legal). One of the officers on the scene even admitted that they overreacted, and the judge in the second trial stated that it was unreasonable since they continued to beat him when he was already on the ground.
The media coverage of the incident played a huge role in the public view of what happened. Given the fact that this was in the early 1990’s and there were no camera phones, it was very rare to capture footage of an event like this unless you were at the scene. The video, which was filmed by George Holliday on his new video camera, was shocking for many people because it was the first time that there was widespread concrete evidence that police brutality was real (“The Rodney King Beating”, 1991). This caused many people to pay close attention to the case after the video aired on TV- they wanted to see how the judicial system would react. When the verdict came back, many people were already following the case and felt a connection to it. People in cities all over the US rioted on King’s behalf since the footage gained nationwide attention. For many, the fact that the officers would not face consequences for their actions was a sign that they had no personal security and that we still live in a society filled with racism. The final trial provided some relief: people saw that they had the power to ensure that law enforcement is responsible for their actions.
While many claim that the amount of force used in the Rodney King case was a very clear example of police brutality, some argue that the amount of force used in King’s case was justified because of his belligerent behavior when officers tried to arrest him. This case was unique in that there was a videotape of the incident, which allowed people to form their own opinion as to whether or not the police were justified in their actions. Many experts viewed the video and agreed that the police used an unnecessary amount of force; the general public believed so strongly that this was a case of police brutality that they started history-making riots. This shows that the people are willing to take more responsibility into matters and are willing to stand up and give consequences to those who believe they are above the law. They say Police brutality has really gotten out of control, making it one of the biggest human rights violations in the United States. Society is attempting to make a change, and they can only hope for a safer justice system in the future.