Today marks the 20th anniversary of America’s last major race riot.
It took place in Los Angeles following the acquittal of three white LAPD officers on brutality charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Unbeknownst to the officers, King’s beatdown was captured on videotape by eyewitness George Holliday. The video went “viral” in an age long before YouTube, with repeated airings by television newscasts around the world.
The L.A.riot resulted in 53 deaths and nearly 2,400 injuries. The toll also included 7,000 fires, damages to some 3,100 businesses and nearly $1 billion in economic losses suffered by the nation’s second-largest city.
Long after the U.S.military quelled the riot and restored order in L.A., race relations remained tense not only in the so-called City of Angels, but throughout the country.
Indeed, many pointed to the Rodney King incident as prima facie evidence that America was an inherently racist country.
It was as if King belonged in the same category as such black civil rights martyrs as Emmit Till, James Meredith and Martin Luther King Jr.
Well, Rodney King was no martyr; no blameless victim of police brutality.
Out on parole, his blood alcohol level estimated at nearly two and a half times the legal limit for drunk driving, King got behind the wheel of a car and went flying down an L.A.freeway with two of his homeboys.
He was flagged for speeding by California Highway Patrol, ignored their flashing lights signaling for him to pull over, suddenly found LAPD joining in his pursuit, and led them on an eight-mile high-speed chase.
When King finally brought his car to a stop, police ordered King and his passngers to get out and lie face down on the ground. King’s homeboys complied and were taken into custody without incident. King resisted and officers subdued him with a taser and batons.
King became a cause célèbre for demagogues stoking the flames of racial enmity. But King, himself, in a moment of grace I attribute to the influence of the Holy Spirit, called for loving kindness between whites and blacks.
“Can’t we all just get along?” he famously asked.
Martin Luther King couldn’t have put it any better.