Rodney King kicks words of wisdom

This July 20, 1993 photo shows Rodney King speaking during an appearance on KFI-AM radio's "Bill Handel and Mark Whitlock" show in Los Angeles. King, the Black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation's history, has died, his publicist said Sunday, June 17, 2012. He was 47. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, file)

Rodney King never considered himself a philosopher or phrase-maker despite the fact that words he uttered on April 29, 1992, became one of the iconic phrases of the 1990s in American popular culture.

On that day, during the height of the worst urban riot in American history, King, victimized by police brutality the previous year, reacted to that rioting then burning large sections of Los Angeles with the heart-felt plea: “…can we all get along?”

That riot, lasting six days, claiming over fifty lives and creating billions of dollars in damages, erupted following an all-white jury’s acquittal of the four white Los Angeles policemen charged with the savage beating of King on March 3, 1991, that an eyewitness captured on videotape.

King, 47, died this weekend, apparently the result of an accidental drowning in the swimming pool of the California home he shared with his fiancée’.

King’s April 1992 observation is another example of the phrase about wisdom often being found in the simplest of places.

Rodney King spoke in Philadelphia at the end of April while promoting his recently published memoir, offering insights into the context of that phrase forever attached to him and dropping some other tidbits of grassroots wisdom that those who should hear and act on will continue to ignore.

King said his “get along” plea arose from his upbringing in the Los Angeles area where he got to know people of different nationalities through the church his mother attended.

“It was hard for me to see the city burning during the riot … when I thought about the good times during my youth,” King said. “My lawyers gave me a statement to read but it wasn’t me. I spoke from my heart … what I felt that day when I saw the violence in the streets.”

King did not condone the rioting but understood the reaction to the acquittals that exploded into negative chaos in far in excess to another instance of segments of society excusing another instance of brutal lawlessness by law enforcers.

“There have been brutality cases over the years and police always get away with it. People were fed up with the brutality and violence,” King said during his book tour talk held at the African American Museum in Center City.

“In L.A. at the time police would use the rationale that Blacks were on PCP so they needed to be killed. It is scary how brutality has twisted the minds of people to the point where they think Blacks deserve mistreatment.”

Police abuse, from insulting verbal encounters to fatal incidents, continues to ravish America especially against persons of color largely because few offending police officers ever face discipline, discharge or criminal indictment.

In Los Angeles, 27 years before the riot producing Rodney King’s iconic reaction, another incident of police abuse triggered six days of deadly rioting in the Watts section of that city.

This past March, 20 years after that 1992 riot, police in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena fatally shot 19-year-old college student Kendrec McDade seven times, leaving him handcuffed and bleeding on the street instead of quickly taking him to a hospital for treatment.

Rodney King, during his Philly talk drew connections between police misconduct and the violent chaos consuming too many Black communities nationwide.

“When people view you life as nothing it leads to these killings [in Black communities]. Police do this. People look up to police. They see them killing people without punishment and now they are doing it,” King said.

“Police are too comfortable with killing Blacks. Now that feeling is held by Blacks who kill Blacks.”

No need to speculate on whether the powers-that-be will accept the observations of Rodney King about police misconduct being an element in the crime spawning matrix in Black communities.

America is too comfortable with myths even myths that easily melt in the glare of reality.

America, at least the power brokers and many in the media, incessantly push the myth that taxing the wealthy properly is counter-productive for the economy because its siphons money that the rich use to create jobs into the sinkhole of government.

Think about how many jobs that wealthy are not creating with the tons of tax-break cash they are dumping into political campaigns where the wealthy are nakedly seeking to elect politicians that will sustains their tax breaks to the detriment of society.

Wealthy Republicans aligned with the likes of conservative power-broker Karl Rove plan to spend nearly $1 billion to capture the White House and control Congress. Not a dime of that billion dollars planned for buying influence in Washington, D.C., will produce a job for an unemployed person in Watts or rural Wisconsin.

Another myth is that America — the world’s military superpower — needs to spend nearly a trillion dollars on national defense, spending that enriches owners of defense industries but has little impact on winning wars in places like Afghanistan where lightly armed insurgents have battled the hi-tech U.S. military machine to a draw.

A few weeks ago an editorial in the monthly newsletter of AARP (American Association of Retired People) advanced the interesting idea of redirecting a slice of military spending to improve education that will uplift the economy.

Buy several fewer $133-million F-35 jet fighters, using that money to purchase portable computers for every first-grader.

Ignoring reality doesn’t change reality.


Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.

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