Rodney G. King — who in the midst of what would become known as the L.A. race riots asked, “Can we all get along?” — was found dead Sunday in a swimming pool at his home in Rialto, Calif. He was 47.
King put a face and voice to victims of police brutality when the videotape of his 1991 police beating was made public. In April 1992, four white officers charged with the beating were put on trial. The jury acquitted three of the officers and declared a mistrial for the fourth. The outcome of this trial set off riots in South Los Angeles and intense public outcry concerning the pattern of police aggression towards blacks and Latinos.
It was not until months later that the officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges. Two of the four officers were sent to two years in prison and King was awarded $3.8 million in damages.
King’s death calls attention to how much — or how little — progress has been made in reversing the pattern of police aggression towards blacks and Hispanics.
On the opposite coast, several thousand demonstrators gathered on Sunday in New York City to march in protest of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies.
In the past year, police stopped and questioned a total 684,330 people, a 600 percent increase from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office. Of those stopped, 87 percent were black or Latino.
The silent march received endorsement from 299 organizations, including unions and religious and cultural groups. Several elected officials were present at the march, showing support for opposition long expressed by civil rights groups.
Bloomberg recently defended the program at a predominantly African-American church in Brooklyn, contending that the program should be “mended, not ended.” He has said he plans to amend and scale back the practice. Sunday’s protestors, however, called for an absolute end to stop-and-frisk policies, arguing that they’re inevitably entwined with racial profiling.