The Lesson Of The Rodney King Beatings: Don’t Record Cops

Posted by | March 3, 2011 15:50 | Filed under: Top Stories

By William K. Wolfrum

It was 20 years ago today in Los Angeles that four police officers, all of them white, struck African-American Rodney King more than 50 times with their wood batons and shocked him with an electric stun gun following a brief high-speed car chase.

Ordinarily, the story would end there. The beaten suspect would be tossed in the back of a cruiser, and that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t, because someone nearby videotaped the beating, and within two days that video was shown to a national audience.

The fall-out of the video was intense, to say the least. A few months later, the four policemen that beat King – Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Stacey Koon – walked out of a courthouse free men after they were acquitted of police brutality charges by an all-white jury that was deadlocked on the charges against Powell.

The ensuing riots engulfed Los Angeles, leaving 55 people dead and more than 2,000 hurt. King’s earnest request of “Can’t we all just get along?” became one of the great quotes of the century.

In the two decades since the King beating, things have changed in the United States. Not in the way many would have anticipated, of course. Baby steps have been made to improve race relations. And some steps have been taken to reduce the heinous act of police brutality. But the main change is this – police departments around the nation have worked overtime to make it a crime to videotape cops.

Last year, a Maryland man was arrested videotaping an undercover police officer who pulled him over and charged with him violating U.S. wiretapping laws. The case against the man was dismissed. A nearly identical case happened in Massachusetts not long after, with the same results – the charges were dropped.

But these are just two incidents. An interactive map created by the website Cop Block shows an unnerving number of incidents involving citizens being harassed in some way for either filming or photographing members of the police or federal officials. According to Dr. Q, the creator of the map:

“The map currently has over 60 markers on it. Each marker on the map represents one or more incidents where a person was harassed, detained, threatened, attacked, arrested, or charged with a crime for using a camera, incident(s) where a camera was seized, or incident(s) where government officials attempted to cover up video evidence. The events on the map all occurred between 2007 and the present.”

Twenty years ago, many looked at the smoldering wreckage of the Rodney King incident and hoped it would grow into a teachable moment, that it would become a jumping-off point for Americans to face the issues of racism and police brutality. Perhaps it was, but more than that it became a teachable moment for police and government officials around the U.S., with the lesson being that no American citizen should have the right to record their actions.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: William K. Wolfrum

I'm a journalist, columnist, humorist, satirist, Dogist and Husbandist

Leave a Reply