In 1991, 24-year-old Rodney King was savagely beaten with metal batons by four officers from the Los Angeles police department. The events of that night would change this country forever when video of the assault became public. The incident became infamous as this instance of citizen surveillance revealed shocking police brutality.
And while a stunned nation was riveted to news accounts of the event, smoldering racial tensions exploded 13 months later when a jury acquitted the LAPD officers accused of the assault on April 29, 1992. Thousands of people in the Los Angeles area rioted over the six days following the verdict. Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred, and property damages topped roughly $1 billion. In all, 53 people died during the riots and thousands more were injured.
“The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption” (HarperCollins, $24.99) marks the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Riots by providing King a platform to finally tell his life story. King’s story was one that grabbed media attention and forced America to face its racial chasm years before the killing of Trayvon Martin.
“With Trayvon Martin, there wasn’t a lot of looting and rioting, which is what happened to me,” noted King. “Here we are 20 years later, and they’re organizing things a lot better. You know, it all boils back down to racism. That’s the bottom line — there’s no other way to look at it. You can cover it up and say it was by the law, but it’s been pure racism for a long time. And, when the police can’t do their job, when they can’t kick butts the way they want to, they’ll leave it to the citizen’s hands. They’re tired of killing by the law, and you’ve got all these ‘wannabe’ law enforcement people who take care of business in their own manner. Time has caught up with us, and there’s no time for racism anymore. Like I say, the only difference you can make is with the young people.”
King says that he has long forgiven the police who beat him, but still marvels at the chain of events that changed his beloved city and nation. In turn, King dedicated the book (co-authored by Lawrence J. Spagnola) to L.A. “I dedicate it to the city of Los Angeles because of the hurt, the pain, that went through on the day of the verdicts,” recalled King. “So, I just thought I would give something back to the people. Especially for the 54 people that died in this area of California.”
While King has been lauded by some as a cultural icon, he described himself simply as a man who is happy to have celebrated another birthday. “I get chills up and down my body at age 47 that I survived all these years as a Black man. Now, you know, I haven’t been an angel over the years, but I haven’t been the worst person either. I’m always trying to move toward positive things. Once you get to a certain age, you look at life so differently. Things have to happen for a reason sometimes, but I really appreciate being Black and being alive.”