The Rodney King beating video was recorded on March 3, 1991, when four police officers were filmed beating him following a pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles. The video shocked the city, and the events that followed shocked the nation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
It was one of the first police brutality videos of its kind, and forever changed the conversation about police and race in America. King, who was intoxicated, had been caught speeding and initially tried to evade the police. When he finally pulled over and exited his car, multiple LAPD units and a helicopter were pursuing him.
Taken by bystander George Holliday from across the street, the footage shows four officers Tazing, kicking, and hitting the taxi driver with their batons upwards of 53 times. Witnesses say that he never resisted, as he showed bruises, broken leg, and a scar from the stun gun which jolted him with 50,000 bolt shocks.
The officers involved in the Rodney King beating video, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Stacey Koon, were put on trial and acquitted by a majority white jury in April of 1992. The following three days were marred by riots, looting, arson, and extreme violence across the city of Los Angeles.
Rodney King himself held a press conference during the turmoil, begging the public “can we all get along.” By the time the riots ended, 55 people were dead and more than 2,000 were injured.
King later settled a civil suit with the city of Los Angeles for $3.8 million. Rodney went on to live a relatively quiet life, but had a number of run-ins with the law as the years went on — including a DUI in 2011. In 2012, he drowned in his backyard pool.
In the years since, with the rise of smart phones and social media, videos depicting instances of police violence against people of color have only become more common.
History seemed to repeat itself in 2014, when the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing by a white police officer led to riots in Ferguson, Missouri. The demonstrations that consumed the city also re-ignited the conversation about police violence in communities of color, and sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
That anger boiled over to New York, after the officer who was seen on video putting Eric Garner in a choke-hold before his death, was not indicted by a grand jury. Months later, protests began in Baltimore after video surfaced of Freddie Gray being apparently mishandled by police before his death.
The Rodney King beating video is one of several instances involving police and black citizens that have caused a widespread debate about policing in America. Activists have called for all officers to be outfitted with body cameras — which a number of departments across the country have done — and for police to build better relationships with the communities in which they serve.