Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By ANTHONY McCARTNEY The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES - After his beating by police stunned the nation and a jury's decision not to hold them responsible sparked a deadly race riot that left Los Angeles smoldering, Rodney King in a quavering voice pleaded on national television for peace while the city burned.
Rodney King, seen in April in Los Angeles, battled alcoholism and was arrested multiple times for drunken driving.
2012 File Photo/The Associated Press
This 1991 videotape of white Los Angeles police officers beating a black motorist, later identified as Rodney King, was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation’s history.
George Holliday/Courtesy KTLA Los Angeles via The Associated Press
But peace never quite came for King -- not after the fires died down, after two of the officers who broke his skull multiple times were punished in a different court, after race relations were reshaped and police tactics were reformed.
His life, which ended Sunday at age 47 after he was pulled from the bottom of his swimming pool, was a continual struggle even as the city he helped change moved on.
STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION
The images -- preserved on an infamous grainy video -- of the black driver curled up on the ground while four white officers clubbed him more than 50 times with batons -- became a national symbol of police brutality in 1991.
More than a year later, when the officers' acquittals touched off one of the most destructive race riots in history, his scarred face and softspoken question -- "Can we all get along?" -- spurred the nation to confront its difficult racial history.
But while Los Angeles race relations and the city's police department made strides forward, King kept coming before police and courts, struggling with alcohol addiction and arrests, periodically re-appearing publicly for a stint on "Celebrity Rehab" or a celebrity boxing match.
He spent his last months promoting a memoir he titled "The Riot Within: From Rebellion to Redemption."
King was declared dead at a hospital after his fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. to say that she had found him submerged in the pool at his home in Rialto, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. Officers found King in the deep end of the pool, pulled him out and tried unsuccessfully to revive him with CPR.
According to Capt. Randy De Anda, Kelley told police that King was an "avid swimmer," but that she was not.
An autopsy was expected to determine the cause of death within two days; police found neither alcohol nor drug paraphernalia near the pool and said foul play wasn't suspected.
King's death was a grim ending to a saga that began 21 years earlier when he fled from police after he was stopped for speeding.
The 25-year-old King, on parole from a robbery conviction, had been drinking, which he later said led him to try to evade police. He was finally stopped by four Los Angeles police officers who struck him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns. He was left with 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.
ACQUITTAL, THEN UNPRECEDENTED RIOTS
A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a TV station. It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.
It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose felony assault trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, Calif.
Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers on state charges in the beating; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.
Violence erupted immediately, starting in Los Angeles, and lasted for three days, killing 55 people, injuring more than 2,000 people and setting swaths of Los Angeles aflame, causing $1 billion in damage.
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