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The economy is rotten. A black man is harmed under less-than-clear circumstances; the race-baiters quickly take up the call, proclaiming that the violent incident is a symptom of endemic American racism. The men responsible for the incident are tried and largely acquitted. The president of the United States, in the midst of a re-election cycle, rips the verdict.
This is the Rodney King case. And it’s worth remembering because the similarities between it and the Trayvon Martin case are far too eerie to ignore. And its worth remembering too that the King case ended with a major American city in flames.
On March 2, 1991, Rodney King and two of his friends, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms, were driving through Los Angeles. King was driving drunk – probably twice the legal blood-alcohol limit. At 12:30 in the morning, two officers saw King speeding. They pursued King through the streets of Los Angeles, with King’s pedal to the metal and the speedometer hitting upwards of 80 mph in residential areas. King admitted later that he was trying to get away from the cops because a DUI would put him back in prison for violating parole on a robbery charge.
Eventually, officers surrounded King’s car. Allen and Helms surrendered quietly and were not harmed. King, however refused to emerge from the car. When he did, he reached for his waistband; one of the cops drew her weapon and told King to get on the ground. He complied. But when four cops – Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Rolando Solano – went to subdue him, he lashed out at them. Officer Stacey Koon then tasered King. But King refused to go down. The officers, recognizing that tasers should immediately lay low those struck with them, believed that King was on PCP.
That’s when the famous taping began. Powell, Wind, and Briseno began beating King, who continued to try to get up. After 56 blows, King finally lay still.
Initially, the police dismissed the video; the person taping then gave it to the media. The outcry was deafening. The full facts of the case weren’t made available to the public – the public was left with the impression that the officers simply decided to beat up a slightly uncooperative black man.
Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind were charged with use of excessive force. The original jury trial was supposed to take place in a heavily minority area, but was transferred to Simi Valley, a heavily white area. The four officers were essentially acquitted.
And riots broke out. Huge riots across South Central Los Angeles. Stores were looted. Asian-owned stores in particular were targeted and burned to the ground.
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