Karen Ocamb

Rodney King Found Dead at Home Sunday Morning

Filed By Karen Ocamb | June 18, 2012 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: LA riots, police beating, police brutality, Rodney King

CNN broke the news yesterday morning that Rodney King, whose 1991 beating by Los Angeles police became a symbol of police brutality, was found dead in his swimming pool in Rialto, California, after his fiancee, Cynthia Kelly placed a 911 call about 5:25 a.m.early Sunday. He was 47. Capt. Randy DeAnda told CNN that there were no preliminary signs of foul play or obvious injuries and that police are conducting a drowning investigation.

King’s beating was caught on videotape and shocked the nation:

When criminal charges were filed against several of the police offiers at the scene, the trial was moved to Simi Valley, a predminately white conservative area where many law enforcement officers lived, in order for the officers to receive a fair trial. They were acquitted and Los Angeles erupted in riots that left at least 50 dead and millions in property damages.

Not reported by most mainstream media was the involvement of many LGBT people. Because of ACT UP and Queer Nation, LGBT people had often taken to the streets in protest and they did so again in support of the outraged Black community who felt justice had been denied and out of commiseration – King symbolized all the unrecorded brutal beatings LGBT people have so long experienced. In West Hollywood, protesters roamed through Boys Town and up to the Sunset Strip, snarling traffic by laying down on the street and drawing chalk “bodies” as well as doing “street theater” re-enacting the police beating of King. Queer Nationals were also among those beating on the glass doors of the LAPD headquarters downtown and overturning the kiosk.

As out lesbian Sgt. Lisa Phillips recalled in April, on the anniversary of the riots, that gay cops were also involved in saving lives and trying to establish order. Phillips came out that night and earned a Medal of Valor for saving her partner and an unconscious civilian in the middle of the riots.

In the aftermath of the riots, attorney Jon Davidson, then with the ACLU of Southern California, was instrumental in getting police brutality against LGBT people and harassment of gay cops written in the Christopher Commission report. One example: when police were called to a violent incident involving gays, the message sent by the responding officers was NHI – which stood for “No Human Involved.”

After longtime LAPD Chief Daryl Gates was forced to retire (he remained at a political cocktail party when LA started burning), his replacement from Philadelphia, Willie Williams, promised zero tolerance for any type of discrimination and because the first LAPD Chief to visit the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. Additionally, the new Republican mayor, Richard Riordan, appointed the first openly gay police commissioner.

All of this came about because black motorist Rodney King was caught on tape having the crap beaten out of him by a bunch of LAPD officers who were clearly using excessive force – something that minorities and LGBT people experienced repeatedly but without recourse. With the constant replaying of the video, many felt the arrogant, non-accountable LAPD culture would finally be forced to change. But the cops “got away with” the beating – and that, too, because a symbol. No Justice, No Peace. King was subsequently awarded over $3 million in a civil lawsuit and wound up with about $1.6 after paying his attorneys. And while King because famous again for asking for peace during the LA Riots – “can we all just get along?” – he continued to have run-ins with police because of his own admitted drinking. Some in LA are now wondering if his drowning might be associated with that addiction he found so difficult to confront. For those unfamiliar with addiction – as someone who is thankfully 32 years clean and sober – imagine addition as that same kind of beating King endured in 1991, only internalized – and with shame and secrets acting as the unrelenting brutal cops. May you finally Rest in Peace, Rodney King.

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