|Rodney King's impassioned speech "Can we all get along?"|
On March 3, 1991, several police officers in Los Angeles kicked and beat Rodney King after stopping him for a speeding violation. A year later, four of the officers were tried for use of excessive force in the arrest. On April 29, 1992 the jury acquitted three of the officers, and declared themselves hung on the fourth. News of the acquittal sparked the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. During six days of rioting and looting 53 people were killed, thousands injured, and a reported one billion dollars in property damage occurred.
The first two days of the riots where extraordinary and terrifying to watch on TV. I cannot imagine the experience on the ground. It appeared that Los Angeles had gone crazy. Then, on the third day, Rodney King held a press conference in front of his lawyer’s office. King spoke with a purity, honesty, and expressiveness that reached out and touched all who heard him. The press conference included his now-iconic plea "People, I just want to say, you know, can we, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids, and…it’s not right, it’s not right.” His voice breaking with emotion he went on, “…to see the security guard shot on the ground, it’s just not right because those people will never go home to their families again, and, please, we can get along here.”
Before that day, Rodney King was an ordinary man; not particularly well educated, nor well spoken, with no experience as a leader, and no training to prepare him to present an impassioned plea for peace. As I watched him on television that day, I felt that I was seeing the hand of God on earth, giving King the strength, character and skills that he needed to make his call for an end to the rioting. I tried to imaging if I would have the qualities necessary to do what King had done. Could I have spoken with such emotion that it would have touched all who heard? Would some force, call it “God,” have entered me and given me what I needed to step forward and move people in such a way?
Though the riots continued for three more days, Rodney King’s plea brought an end to the majority of the violence. By the time police, National Guard, and the military arrived, most of the rioting had already ended – presumably in response to King’s call that “we all get along.”
Sadly, Rodney King could not end his own internal riot as easily as that in the streets. His problems with alcohol and drug addiction continued to rule his life. Yesterday, June 17, Rodney King was found dead in his swimming pool, just 47 years of age. In earlier interviews he had said that swimming was one of the only things that gave him peace.
Rest in peace, Rodney, rest in peace.