By Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
Of the many great things which comes about from the study of history, the ability to look at any given event with retrospect, provides the best roadmap for not allowing the same mistakes to be repeated. While many people are doing their level best to erase what were very painful days and events in our country, the reality remains, it is this very pain, which makes us who we are as a nation.
Just one such painful and dark day, occurred on March 31, 1991, on the streets of Los Angeles. In an attempt to initiate a traffic stop, California Highway Patrol Trooper, Timothy Singer, would set into motion, a series of events, which would play-out on live TV across our great nation. Singer, unable to effect a peaceful stop, then began a high speed chase of the vehicle and its three occupants. The chase began along the highway, but quickly entered the residential neighborhood of Lake View Terrace and reportedly reached speeds of 115 mph. When the driver of the vehicle finally stopped, Singer, now joined by his wife and fellow CHP Trooper, placed the occupants under arrest. The passengers in the car, complied with the order to exit the vehicle were both handcuffed and placed into the CHP vehicles without incident. The driver however, refused to comply with the orders of the CHP Troopers.
Responding to the CHP Troopers call for back-up, five LAPD officers surrounded the vehicle and again ordered the occupant to exit his car. The events which followed, unbeknownst to the LAPD Officers, would be caught on a camcorder operated by local neighborhood resident, George Holliday. The video captured what has become known as, the worst case of excessive use of force by law enforcement in our country. The driver of the vehicle we now know, was Rodney King and when he exited his vehicle, the LAPD Officers first used their taser and then their batons to beat King, striking him fifty-six times, as he lay struggling for his life on the street. The now historic video, lasted about 12 minutes and to anyone who has watched it, shows a clear, excessive use of force.
The political environment in LA during the 1990's is very different than it is today. California was the epicenter of the crack cocaine epidemic which fueled the US, zero tolerance policy and the war on drugs. During this time period, the LAPD, Chief of Police was a man named Daryl Gates, who in retrospect, was neither well equipped, nor well suited for this job. Under Daryl Gates leadership, the LA Police Department became synonymous with the term, "excessive use of force."
Following the investigation into this event, The Los Angeles County District Attorney, brought charges against four of the LAPD Officers. As a result of the intense media coverage during the investigation, the defense team sought and was granted a change of venue, moving the trial from Los Angeles County into neighboring Semi Valley and Ventura County. The jury for the trial was composed of nine white people, one bi-racial male, one Latino and one Asian-American. The prosecutor in the case, Terry White, was Black. Following the trial, the jury deliberated for seven days and returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY, acquitting all four of the LAPD Officers of the charge of assault and three officers of the charge of, excessive use of force. Following the verdict movie director John Singleton predicted, "by having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb".
Almost immediately following the verdict, Los Angeles exploded with looting and riots and after two days, a State of Emergency was declared, a dusk to dawn curfew was ordered and deployment of the California, Army National Guard backed-up by the US Army's 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division were sent in to re-establish order and quell the violence. The rioting spread throughout the Los Angeles area as thousands of people joined in the fray, before order could be restored, sixty-three people were dead, another two thousand eighty three were injured, property damage was estimated to be in excess of 1 Billion dollars and over twelve thousand people had been arrested.
As a result of the wide spread nature of the riots, racial tensions between Korean-American and African-American communities ignited a race war, with both sides wielding weapons looted from neighborhood Gun Shops and Sporting Goods stores. Even though Koreatown was well removed from the main riots of South Central LA, this area was the most heavily damaged during the riots. By the time the riots ended, Daryl Gates had announced his intention to resign; yet, much of the violence and bloodshed was laid squarely at his feet.
In the aftermath of the riots, public outcry and political pressure increased, as did calls for a retrial of the LAPD Officers. In response, Federal Civil Rights charges, were brought agains all four the the officers. At the second trial, the courts found two of the officers guilty of Civil Rights violations while two others were again acquitted. Rodney King was awarded 3.8 million in damages from the City of LA and later admitted, the reason he did not originally comply with the officers, was because he was on parole for a robbery conviction and he had been "drinking"; which, he recognized as a violation of his parole and would likely send him back to prison. In the sad ending to this story, Rodney King invested most of his settlement, founding the hip-hop record label, "Straight Alta-Pazz Records". Unable to make a go of his record label, King returned to the life he knew best. He was arrested eleven times on charges ranging from domestic abuse to hit and run. Rodney King, died June 17, 2012, the official cause of death was ruled an accidental drowning, after a night of heavy drinking and drug use.
It has been said, a smart individual learns from their mistakes and a wise individual learns from the mistakes of others. Yet in 2019, it is as if, we have not learned a thing from our history. California's Maxine Waters, who was a seated Congresswoman at the time of the riots, called the bloody events an "insurrection," and a "defining moment in the way Black people resisted". In 2019, Maxine continues with her hate filled ideology, telling people in her district, "If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet, in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they'er not welcome anymore, anywhere." With these comments, Congresswoman Waters, ignores and minimizes the very words spoken by Rodney King. "Can we stop making it hard on older people and kids…it's just not right….Please can we get along here…we are all stuck here for awhile, lets try to beat it…lets try to work it out".