Trayvon Martin: Rodney King, Redux

The similarities are eerie. The outcome will be frightening.

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.

And the race-baiters took over. They suggested that the officers were acquitted because white folks were happy to see King’s beating. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) quickly became an advocate for the rioters, and demanded that President George H.W. Bush issue a statement decrying the verdict and announce that the Justice Department would investigate.

And President Bush quickly complied. “[V]iewed from outside the trial,” he said, “it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I and so was Barbara and so were my kids.”

By the end of the riots, 53 people had been killed, nearly 2,400 had been injured, over 3,000 businesses had been damaged. Nearly $1 billion in financial losses had been sustained.

Get ready. All the same elements are present in the Trayvon Martin case. The initial media furor stirred up the emotions of the American people without providing them the full facts. Just as Rodney King was presented to the public as a decent fellow targeted by the police, Trayvon Martin’s five year old angelic pictures were dragged out and circulated, with the media celebrating him as the flower of American youth. Just as the police officers in the Rodney King trial were quickly demonized – without evidence – as racists, so too was George Zimmerman quickly characterized as a white racist (even though he is a Hispanic non-racist by most accounts). Just as the race-baiters came out of the woodwork for political gain on behalf of Rodney King, so too have they done with Trayvon Martin. Just as a pusillanimous president caved to political pressure for comment with Rodney King, so too did a race-baiting pusillanimous president jump into the fray in this case.

And will there be riots? To judge from Twitter, the answer is surely yes. There is not enough evidence to convict Zimmerman. And there is more than enough evidence to suggest that those who rioted for Rodney are all too willing to do the same for Trayvon.

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