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Rodney King Riots and Its Impact on American Society

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Rodney King was an African-American male born in Sacramento, California on April 2nd, 1965. In Los Angeles (on March 3rd, 1991), Rodney King was pulled over by LAPD, forcibly removed from the vehicle he was in, and savagely beaten by four LAPD officers; Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Stacey Koon. Rodney’s injuries consisted of a skull fracture (possibly more than one), broken bones, chipped teeth, and possibly permanent damage to his brain. Luckily enough, camera man, George Holliday, managed to catch the entire travesty on camera. Eventually, that video would be broadcast all over the nation, leading to the four officers to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon charges and excessive use of force.

Not too long after, a predominantly white jury found all four officers not guilty, which incited anger/rage throughout the city and random outbursts of violence which gave birth to the LA Riots of 1992. Rodney King became the center of racial tension throughout the nation. Anger over the acquittal, laying dormant was years of unpleasant feelings from the racial inequality in the city, those impure emotions then leaked onto the streets resulting in a five day period of rioting in Los Angeles. The riots triggered a nation-wide conversation about racial disparity, economic imbalance, and the use of brutal police force that vividly exists today.

Not to mention, the same month as Rodney King’s beating, a Korean store owner in South Los Angeles shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a young African American girl, who allegedly tried to steal orange juice. It was later discovered Harlins was clutching money to pay for the juice when she was killed. The store owner received probation and a $500 fine. Under those circumstances, residents of LA set fires, vandalized and robbed stores, retail stores, and restaurants. Drivers who were fair skinned became targeted, a number of them were removed out of their vehicles and brutally beaten on the streets.

The shooting of Latasha Harlins immensely intensified the already bubbling tension. Not only did it create a rift between the black community and the Korean community, but it also amplified the black community’s resentment with the justice system. At the time, African Americans did not feel safe nor protected in their times of need. During the rioting, a bystander, Terri Barnett, remembers watching the cops drive right by rioters without stopping. Terri and her boyfriend, along with two other strangers, helped rescue a truck driver named, Reginald Denny, who was cruelly beaten by gang affiliates. Barnett, her boyfriend, and the two other accomplices managed to get the truck driver back into his truck and delivered him to the hospital, which ended up saving his life.

Throughout the course of the five days that people were rioting and acting chaotic, there was somewhere over 40 riot-related deaths, including 10 situations where people were shot and killed by Los Angeles police officers and the National Guard. Consequently, more than 2,000 people were injured, and nearly 6,000 arsonists and thieves were arrested. This event was near cataclysmic, it disrupted the false utopia a majority of people wanted to believe they were living. Forcing millions of people to open their eyes and take a long hard look at the dystopian society we all live in today. This brought awareness to police brutality, systematic racism, and how poorly law enforcement treats African Americans. 

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Rodney King Riots And Its Impact On American Society. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
“Rodney King Riots And Its Impact On American Society.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
Rodney King Riots And Its Impact On American Society. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
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