On this day 25 years ago, Los Angeles taxi driver Rodney King yielded to police after a high-speed chase. As nearby resident George Holliday caught in a now infamous video—way before cell phones captured footage of police killing Oscar Grant and many of the other victims of police violence—Los Angeles Police Department officers beat King while he was on the ground, striking him with batons and leaving him with severe injuries.
The video galvanized support for King and sparked public conversation about police brutality in communities of color. Maybe you know the rest of the story: the four White officers were acquitted, and long-simmering outrage boiled over into the 1992 LA Riots, during which King asked the famous question: “Can we all get along?”
As The New York Times noted in King’s obituary, he wrote and published a memoir about his struggles to hold onto steady work, beat substance abuse issues and wrestle with the public image created by the media in the wake of the beating. He drowned in 2012.
The fallout from the beating left a mark on America, too. In the #BlackLivesMatter era, surveillance of police is becoming an important part of criminal justice reform. Cell phone camera footage can help bring justice to those hurt or killed by police. As Julianne Hing noted in 2011: “Twenty years after Rodney King was beaten, video is crucial for providing the galvanizing spark and just as important, preventative precaution for keeping police officers in check.”