The Influence of Rodney King Incident on US Justice System

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The Rodney King case was so influential in American society because it was supposed to be straightforward. It was the first time there was video evidence of police brutality and it was incredibly difficult to watch. It should have been enough to convict any of the four officers caught on camera but instead the public was told that their eyes were playing tricks on them and nobody was punished. It was yet another reminder to blacks that their lives were not valued, and many people took great offense to that. Over a dozen police officers looked on as King had his skull fractured, bones broken, and teeth kicked in for fifteen minutes. As a result of the incident, with help from modern day technology, people began recording police officers when they use excessive force. There is a public outcry when someone is killed by the police, and more pressure has been put onto the criminal justice system to do the right thing.

Rodney King was a black male that lead a high speed police chase through the 210 Freeway in Los Angeles in March of 1991. Once caught, the police pulled King out of his car and began to brutally beat and torture him not knowing the severity of what they had just gotten themselves into. King’s beating was captured on tape by George Holliday, one of the residents in the Los Angeles neighborhood. Millions looked on and begged for justice while others kept their mouths shut. The four police officers, Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officer Laurence Powell, Officer Timothy Wind and Officer Theodore Briseno were arrested days later for the use of excessive force and assault with a deadly weapon. Originally, the trial was supposed to and community backlash, it made it nearly impossible for a Los Angeles County jury to white and very wealthy area on the outskirts of Los Angeles in Simi Valley. The four officers happen in Los Angeles but because a California state court panel ruled that political fallout unfairly decide the case. The trial ended up moving from Los Angeles to a predominantly plead not guilty to the beating of Rodney King after being arraigned on all charges just a few days after the incident. The officers were later acquitted by a nearly all white jury.

This trial sparked a controversy that would cost the city of Los Angeles millions of tax payer dollars. That controversy would be what is known as the LA Riots. Once word got out that the officers had been acquitted, protesters took the streets immediately and continued growing by the thousands. In less than two hours, the protesters covered over three blocks, demanding there be justice (history.com editors). Eventually, dozens of neighborhoods across South and Central Los Angeles were up in flames as rioters lit buildings on fire, smashed windows, looted stores, killed people, and much more. By the end of the day, California Governor Pete Wilson had declared a state of emergency and ordered the activation of reserve National Guard soldiers. A state of emergency is a situation of national danger or disaster in which a government suspends normal constitutional procedures in order to regain control (Oxford Dictionary). These riots continued for nearly a week resulting in over hundreds of buildings burned down, thousands of people injured, and over 60 people dead. Although many people believe the riots were caused solely by the King verdict, in reality, these widespread brutal actions were a justified protest to the social injustice and economic inequality in which people live.

Eventually, the officers were indicted on federal charges which lead to three of the four officers being convicted and sent to prison. The federal trial focused more on the incident and the jury found Officer Laurence Powell and Sgt. Stacy Koon guilty, resulting in 30 months in prison. Officer Koon was a well-respected LAPD veteran. He owned over 19 commendations and only 3 reprimands. The night of the King beating, he ordered the officers to stand down and later said that he thought the “drawing of guns was a lousy tactic” (history.com editors). The Rodney King trial was influential because it changed the US justice systems forever.

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