Reflections on the Rodney King Riots

From brutality to anarchy: not the proper path to pursue in LA 

By Ken K. Gourdin 

Author’s Note: This op-ed appeared in Dixie College’s (now Dixie State’s) award-winning student newspaper, The Dixie Sun.  I regret that I did not preserve the date, but the op-ed appeared during or shortly after the riots which followed the acquittal of Los Angeles Police Department officers involved in the beating of motorist Rodney King.  The riots occurred March 29-April 2, 1992.


No one could have predicted the full-scale rioting which would eventually erupt from the brutality inflicted upon a single black man by four Los Angeles, Calif. Police officers over a year ago.

Nor could anyone have predicted the aftermath of that violently brutal act.  That single act set off a storm of violence.  Like an earthquake, the aftershocks resulting from the initial jolt continue to reverberate not only in and around Los Angeles, but throughout the nation as well.

Certainly those four former police officers couldn’t have guessed that their conduct on the night of March 3, 1991 was the beginning of a chain of events that would trigger the worst rioting in US history.

Certainly the defense attorneys for the four men accused in the incident couldn’t have guess that rioting and charges of racial bias would result from changing the trial’s location and from selecting a predominantly-white jury.

Even though three of the four defendants were found completely innocent of all wrongdoing (the fourth may be retried on one charge) there have been no winners in this case from the beginning.

Rodney King certainly won’t emerge a winner from this incident.  There is no doubt that the conduct of the defendants was not justified.  Unlike contests in contact sports, where even if the contestants are bloodied and battered they still might have a victory to show for their efforts, Rodney King has no such victory to show for his injuries.

Even if King were to win his $56 million lawsuit against the parties responsible for this incident, there would still be many losers in this incident—like the taxpayers of Los Angeles.  After all, where are the funds for King’s damage settlement supposed to come from, Santa Claus?

Those who have resorted to violence to vent their anger over this injustice are losers, too.  There is no doubt that the problems of crime and poverty have taken their toll on the residence of the inner city, but aside from unloading frustration until it boils over again, how hare violence, vandalism, arson and looting supposed to help?

These problems are going to drive whatever businesses haven’t already left out of the area, driving up unemployment and crime rates and driving even more people into poverty.  All of these problems will feed on themselves and the rapid and vicious downward spiral will continue even now that the violence has ended.  Violence is not the answer.

The families and friends of those who have been killed in the rioting aren’t winners, either.  They share no blame for the actions of the officers, yet they have caught the most serious fallout.  No matter how seriously Rodney King was injured by the officers, it’s a safe bet that most of his injuries have healed—but innocent people have died on the streets of Los Angeles because of King’s injuries.

Police officers all over the nation don’t stand to gain anything from this atrocity, either.  The officers accused in the King beating have marred the previously-spotless reputations of their fellow officers nationwide.  Those who have assaulted King have eroded the trust placed not only by the citizens of Los Angeles, but by citizens everywhere.

I hope not to see the “knee-jerk” reactions I am expecting from outraged citizens across the country.  Now, of all times, is not the time to limit or curtail police powers because some—perhaps many—have abused those powers.  To place such limitations on good cops will only serve to fan the flames of frustration which cause officers to inexcusably lash out at people like Rodney King.  And they would only fan the flames of futility which cause citizens not to care about the pervasiveness of crime in our society—and to hate even more those who are supposed to be protecting them.

There is little doubt that justice wasn’t done in this case—and that it is not done in many other cases as well.  So what is to be done?  I don’t know.

I do know, however, that police brutality is not the answer to these problems; limiting police powers is not the answer; racism—and counter-racism—are not the answers; and crime—looting, burning, and vandalizing innocent businesses, killing and hurting innocent people—these are not the answers.

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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1 Response to Reflections on the Rodney King Riots

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Rioting in Missouri | My Blog

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