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Rodney King and Police Brutality in America

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Rodney King, a black construction worker, was violently beaten by LAPD after evading officers during a traffic stop on March 3rd, 1991. The incident was filmed by a man named Geoege Holliday from his balcony, who later sent the footage to the local news station KTLA. The four officers involved in the beating were tried on excessive force, three were acquitted and the jury failed to reach a verdict on the fourth. In the hours following the release of the accused officers, riots broke out in Los Angeles. The rioting lasted six days, 63 people lost their lives and 2,373 where injured. The riot ended when the California Army National Guard, the United States Army as well as the United States Marine Corps re-established control. Two of the four officers where again tried on April 16th, 1993, in a civil case by the federal government and sentenced to prison, and the other two officers acquitted. Rodney King was later awarded $3.8 million in damages by the city of Los Angeles, he later struggled to start a business of his own, he was not successful and in 2012 was found dead in his own pool of an accidental drowning.

Police brutality is defined as one of several forms of police misconduct which involves undue violence by police members. Wikipedia also states that it is widespread, existing in many countries and territories, even those that prosecute it, although illegal, it can be performed under the ‘color of law’, or mere semblance of legal right. The term “police brutality” was in use in the American press as early as 1872, when the Chicago Tribune reported on the beating of a civilian under arrest at the Harrison Street police station. In the 19th and 20th centuries, reports of police brutality would involve the bludgeoning of individuals by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks, and larger scale incidents would coincide with labor strikes such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman Strike of 1894 and the Steel Strike of 1919 to name a few. There has yet to be a generation free from police brutality, it has been apart of all our excestinance, just in different forms.

A study conducted by the police violence tracking website, shows the records of over 26,000 people killed by police across the United States since 2000, this averages to over 1300 people per year until 2019. An analysis of the available FBI data by Dara Lind for Vox found that the United States police kill African American individuals at disproportionate rates, African Americans accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the United States population. There are those who perceive the police to be oppressors and the victims of police brutality are the powerless groups, such as minorities, disabled, the young and the poor. This issue of oppression has been a national concern for many years and has resulted in the National Committee on Law Observation and Enforcement, otherwise known as the Wickersham Commission. This brought to light the ‘Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement’ concluded that the use of physical brutality, or other forms of cruelty, to obtain involuntary confessions or admissions is

Racial Profiling is a term widley used when police brutality is mentioned. The profiling involves a prejudice against an individual due to a particle race, religion, political or socio economic status. University of California, found that ‘the probability of being black, unarmed, and shot by police is about 3.49 times the probability of being white and shot by police” (Andrew). According to internal Boston Police Department documents, police who have been exposed to war have more than fifty percent higher rate of excessive force complaints than non-veterans. The ‘War Model’ of policing states that police brutality is more likely to occur because police see crime as a war and have people who are their enemies. Academic theories offer two different hypotheses to explain police brutality, the threat hypothesis and the community violence hypothesis. The threat hypothesis states that police use force in direct response to a perceived threat from racial and/or economic groups viewed as threatening to the existing social order. The community violence hypothesis states that police use force in direct response to levels of violence in the community, in other words, force is used to control groups that threaten the community or police themselves with violence.

Beginning in the early 1900, racism defined as prejudice, discrimination that is directed at a different race based on someone’s own belief is a problem that many individuals participate in. Although most brutality is used only when the situation calls for it, officers are more likely to violate black offenders than white offenders.

There is a placard in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture shows a photo of an Alabama State Trooper swinging his baton over the head of the then-25-year-old Congressman John Lewis from March 7th, 1965. The protest that involved congressman Lewis, was one of many that followed the 1963 march led by none other than Martin Luther King and his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. King stated, “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ”When will you be satisfied?’   

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Rodney King and Police Brutality in America. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
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