Retro Action, March 3, 1991: Rodney King Forgets to Signal a Turn

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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Rodney King and lawyer Carmen Lamancusa arrive at the courthouse. (Reuters/STR News)

Chances are you wouldn't know Rodney King if it weren't for the video camera of George Holliday, the L.A. resident who famously caught the violent beating of the DUI suspect by police officers on this day in 1991.

In a pre-YouTube world, the video was an instant media sensation, enflaming a public debate over issues of institutional racism. Did King deserve the sustained and vicious beating? Were the officers—all white—guilty of brutality?

The officers involved stood trial, and all four were acquitted.

"The jury's verdict will not blind us to what we saw on that videotape," said Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. "The men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the LAPD."

The wildly unpopular court decision ignited race riots in the city that left 55 dead and more than 2,000 injured.

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Riots erupted all over Los Angeles after the officers who beat King were acquitted. (Photo: Reuters/Lee Celano)

"It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything," said King after the violence broke out. "We’ll, we’ll get our justice.... They won the battle, but they haven't won the war."

Despite the gross miscarriage of justice, King's story might have a happy ending after all. In 2010, he and Cynthia Kelley, one of the jurors who awarded him $3.8 million in damages in his 1994 civil suit against the city of Los Angeles, were engaged to be married.

"We hadn't spoken to each other for many years, and it just so happened that we reconnected," said King in a recent interview. "It was like we were never apart from one another."


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