racial unity

Rodney King

Rodney King: Symbol of Police Brutality and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

Photo taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

A National Guardsman stands by during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The graffitied wall in the background shows support for Rodney King.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were triggered by the acquittals of police officers in the Rodney King verdict. King became a symbol of police brutality and unified Los Angeles in violent protest of the verdict.

The above image was captured in 1992 at the Los Angeles riots. The image features a White National Guardsman standing alert and armed. The Guardsman is wearing combat boots, a camouflaged uniform, a watch, and protective helmet; he is also carrying an M16 rifle. The man is gazing at something in the distance, presumably the ongoing rioting. The Guardsman is standing on a sidewalk comprised of square concrete slabs. A small patch of overgrown, brownish-green grass is seen directly behind the Guardsman. The sidewalk is dirty and littered with various trash, including a Nike advertisement.

Behind the Guardsman, a discolored beige wall has been spray-painted black with various graffiti. The most prominent graffiti in the photo reads, “This is for Rodney King,” and below that, “We love you my brother.” The remaining graffiti is a conglomeration of scratch-outs and various messages. In the right-hand corner of the image, the graffitied wall reads, “X·Peace,” and “Police 187.” More graffiti can be seen above the National Guardsman’s head on the left side of the wall in the photo, but it is illegible.

This image is filled with historical and cultural significance. The graffiti memorializes the LA community’s support for Rodney King. In March of 1991, King was severely beaten by the LAPD, which was videotaped by a nearby resident. The LA community was all too familiar with police brutality, corruption, and racism within the LAPD. By videotaping the event, Rodney King was transformed into a symbol of police brutality. No longer was this issue an invisible one—there was proof and the racism was visible. Four of the police officers involved were charged with excessive force and assault with a deadly weapon. In April of 1992, a verdict was reached: three of the four police officers were acquitted of all charges. Los Angeles was outraged by the verdict and was not going to tolerate this injustice. Rioting commenced.

The graffiti in the above image indicates the community’s support of Rodney King. The acquittal of the officers made the Black community feel worthless. In Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle, the Rodney King verdict and resulting LA riots are documented and experienced by Beatty’s protagonist, Gunnar Kaufman. Upon hearing the verdict, Gunnar reflects, “Let go? The officers had to be guilty of something… I never felt so worthless in my life… Sitting on the couch watching the announcer gloat, my pacifist Negro chrysalis peeled away, and a glistening anger began to test its wings… I wanted to taste immediate vindication.” (Beatty, 130-132). After the verdict, the community utilized violence as an outlet for the pain and unfairness of the situation; Rodney King unified the Black community and became its rallying point in violent protest.

The above image documents the reality of the LA riots in 1992; “This is for Rodney King / We love you my brother,” highlight the sentiments of the rioting—the community reached its limit for tolerating the inequality of the law and the LAPD, and King was its unifying symbol.

Source:  

Chan, Bryan. The 1992 Los Angeles riots. 1992. Photograph. Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles. Web. 30 Apr 2013. <http://framework.latimes.com/2012/04

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