As most of us know, Rodney King was found dead in the pool at his home early Sunday morning. As authorities claim no foul play and a formal autopsy will not be completed for weeks, many are asking what will King’s legacy be.
I believe that King will be remembered as a symbol, in fact the most unusually perfect symbol: the accidental Rosa Parks of the 1990’s. For he was not, like mother Parks, strategically placed in an attempt to expose and highlight the social inequities of a municipality known as Montgomery. No…not Rodney. He in fact was the one the movement would not have picked. He was a troubled young man struggling with addiction and the typical social realities similar to many young black men in urban America. He was the brother that was not profiled, but was speeding and driving erratically; the brother who did not do exactly what the officers told him to do; but even still the citizen who still deserved a police department to follow procedures that both protected them and him.
But in 1991 as hundreds of millions have seen over and over thanks to the quick camera work of George Holiday, members of the LAPD struck him, and struck him again and again and again. Fifty three blows from officers' nightsticks. He was the unusually perfect symbol because despite all he did wrong, he had rights that were violated. The moment officers are able to safely restrain a suspect, no additional force is to be used. For those officers to be acquitted said loud and clear to America that police brutality was acceptable, even when caught on tape. The uprisings in L.A. that followed and the subsequent federal case that sent two of the four officers to jail sent America a stronger messag:. No police misconduct and abuse was not acceptable.
In the 21 years since the beating, there have been two Rodney Kings. The symbol, the one who even following a savage beating was able to be the country’s conscious and ask “Can't we all just get along”? And then the man who was afforded little room to be human, who was critiqued at every turn and was often demonized for his struggle with addiction more than supported to find the place where he could manage it.
I hope that we remember him for being both. I hope we remember the man; as we have so many in our own families struggling with addiction, up again and down again, but truly pushing to be whole. That was what I saw him doing before his death, preparing to be married, trying to put together pieces with a family who he had let down. I hope all of our prayers will be with them at this time. But I will also always remember Rodney the symbol. Because day in and out there are Rodney King’s who don’t have a George Holiday, even when they do have judges and juries that still see race and class before humanity on a video.
Because there are so still too many unusually perfect men and women being beaten and abused by those abusing their power and ignoring their purpose, let's fight for them family by showing up for jury duty versus running from it; voting down ballot for judges and prosecutors who have a true heart for justice. And even as we fight for what is right, always pushing for what Rodney called for when he asked if we could all just get along…Peace. Lord knows we can all use some.
As always, I’m Jeff, and that’s my truth.