Rodney King, who was found dead in his swimming pool on Sunday, wanted to be remembered for the short speech he made, appealing for an end to the LA race riots of the early nineties:
King became somewhat of a celebrity and a civil rights icon after he was filmed being harshly beaten by Los Angeles policemen who had pulled him over for speeding. Three officers involved in the incident were acquitted the following year, which triggered intense clashes between police and rioters, leaving 52 dead and thousands injured.
Joanna Schroeder, for the the Good Men Project website, wrote:
“It was the beginning of a new era in media. We now take for granted that someone will always be there with a camera to document what happens on our cities’ streets. But in 1991, so many cases of police brutality went undocumented, and victims simply weren’t believed or given any voice.
“As King says in the video above, it was lucky someone videotaped the cops that day. For those of us living protected lives away from the city streets of South Central LA – and neighborhoods just like it across the nation – it was a wake-up call. Police brutality was (and still is) very, very real.”
In one of his last media appearances, King told the L.A. Times in an interview:
Everybody was tired of having these butterflies in their stomach when it comes to the police, so I’m glad what happened to me happened, and that it changed a lot of things. A lot of people have come up to me and said, Thanks to you, man, I got a job.
People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble, and don’t do this and don’t do that. But it’s hard to live up to some people’s expectations, which [I] wasn’t cut out to be.
In a different L.A. Times piece, King said:
“A lot of people would have never had [a chance to succeed] if I had not survived that beating.
“Obama, he wouldn’t have been in office without what happened to me and a lot of black people before me. He would never have been in that situation, no doubt in my mind. He would get there eventually, but it would have been a lot longer.
“So I am glad for what I went through. It opened the doors for a lot of people.”
Police were called to King’s home in Rialto, California after his fiancée discovered his body floating at the bottom of his swimming pool. King had a history of drug and alcohol problems, although it is not yet known if these were a contributing factor.
Rodney King: 1965-2012