Los Angeles riots figure Rodney King found dead

Rodney King April 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Rodney King was beaten while in police custody in 1991

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Rodney King, the African-American at the centre of the Los Angeles riots 20 years ago, has been found dead aged 47.

His fiancee discovered his body at the bottom of a swimming pool, but there was no sign of foul play.

King was a victim of police brutality in 1991, but the officers involved were acquitted the following year.

The verdict triggered clashes between rioters and police which left more than 50 dead, thousands injured and thousands of properties destroyed.

Police Captain Randy Deanda says King was found "unresponsive" at the bottom of his pool

Police said on Sunday that King had been found "unresponsive" at the bottom of his pool in Rialto, a city in San Bernardino County, just west of Los Angeles.

He was pronounced dead at 06:11 (13:11 GMT) on Sunday, said Police Captain Randy Deanda.

LAPD racism

Rodney King's beating at the hands of the police, which left him with brain damage, was filmed by a bystander and shown by media outlets across the world.

He had been stopped for speeding on a dark street on 3 March 1991. The four LA police officers who pulled him over hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Los Angeles says the iconic images of his beating had a huge impact at the time on an already tense Los Angeles.

Eventually, the whole chain of events had a profound impact on the way race was dealt with in the US, our correspondent says.


Those iconic images of an African American man lying unarmed on the floor being beaten by white police officers had a huge impact on what was an already tense Los Angeles, certainly within the African American community, and the way that the police reacted to that element of the community.

When the four of those white police officers were acquitted the following year, that outrage sparked into the LA riots, the worst single urban outbreak of violence America has seen. More than 50 people were killed, thousands injured, thousands of properties were destroyed by arsonists and it led to a complete restructuring of the way that the Los Angeles police does its work.

It not only had an impact around America and around the world, it really changed the way race was dealt with in this country.

Since that time, Rodney King has struggled to beat his addictions - to alcohol - he's struggled with the law on some occasions as well, but he had recently written a memoir of his life, he'd recently got engaged.

He was due to be married soon - to Cynthia Kelley, a juror in his civil case. When he spoke to the BBC a few weeks ago he said he felt his life was getting on track, things were moving forward, he was very positive.

King recently told the Los Angeles Times that while he had come to terms with his broader legacy, dealing with the past had not been easy.

"I sometimes feel like I'm caught in a vise," he said. "Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I'm a fool for believing in peace."

A later trial resulted in two of the four officers being jailed. King sued the City of Los Angeles and won $3.8m (£2.5m) compensation.

The rioting that gripped LA in the wake of the original not-guilty verdict went on for days, leaving 50 people dead and causing $1bn of damage to the city.

King went on television three days into the rioting to call for calm, pleading that everyone "just get along" - years later he said he wanted that statement to be his legacy.

The Los Angeles Police Department itself was forced to change in the wake of the Rodney King case, which highlighted widespread racism in the largely white, male force.

It was not uncommon for officers to describe African-Americans as "monkeys" and "gorillas", and some police bragged about beating suspects over their patrol car radios.

An independent commission was set up to investigate the issue, chaired by future US Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

It recommended boosting multiculturalism in the police force and the LAPD had slowly shifted to a more community-focused style of policing.

As for Rodney King himself, he got engaged to one of the jurors from his trial and published a book in 2012 titled The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption.

But he also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and had several brushes with the law over the years, and he eventually lost all his money.

The Los Angeles Police Department said that at this time it had no comment to make on the death of King, adding that the death had occurred in Rialto, out of its jurisdiction.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Whatever you think of Rodney King his beating at the hands of the LAPD was an ugly incident that acted as a catalyst. Would he have been beaten if he was a white man? Arguably not but the subsequent investigation highlighted fundamental problems with racism in the LAPD. The the incident also highlighted the social problems and race divides within the LA society unfortunately at too high a price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    It seems to me that Mr King was a victim twice over. Both on the night in 1991 and for the subsequent lime light as a result. He was unfortunately the catalyst in the necessary change in the regime. This combined with the person filming 1991 events brought on a tremendous upheaval of attitude alteration. Part of a chain that altered his, and our, life forever. Rest in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    This man was no Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. It would be a shame if people attempted to brand him as such.

    He was a victim but he did nothing to change attitudes. The acquittal of the police did that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Having been born in LA and at the time of the riots being only 10 and not far from LA, I see no problem with this. Sure, the suffering of both the beating and [likely drowning] isn't OK, but the fact is he was resisting arrest, didn't pull over, driving like a lunatic and risking others lives. Truthfully, the only victims were the victims of the riot, e.g., Reginald. The police and King, not so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I think everyone is getting the story about King wrong .. It was not about who he was and what he was like, it was about who the Police were and what they were like ...


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