The 25th anniversary of the 1992 L.A. riots just passed. The riots began after four White police officers were acquitted for beating Black motorist Rodney King. The incident was videotaped, and once it made the national news the recording became the Zapruder film of Black America.
Zapruder’s film recorded JFK’s assassination, the crime of the century, but the Rodney King recording captured, once and for all, the treatment Black Americans have endured from law enforcement for an entire century. It was a blow-by-blow demonstration of police brutality. Even LAPD’s police chief said, “I stared at the screen in disbelief …I see them beat a man with their batons 56 times, to see a sergeant on the scene who did nothing to seize control, was something I never dreamed I would witness.”
Black America was outraged by the beating, but the recording gave America an opportunity to recognize a problem that couldn’t be legislated away with civil and voting rights acts. There was hope invested in the Rodney King footage, because, in the ‘60s, the footage of high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs attacking civil rights demonstrators forced America to confront the tyranny its southern states inflicted on Black Americans.
Black America felt the Rodney King footage confirmed America’s “policing problem” and the conviction of the officers would serve as a deterrent and begin the overdue process of reform.
But the jury didn’t convict.