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Rodney King’s Legacy: 25 Years Later

It’s been 25 years since a Los Angeles court acquitted four white LAPD officers over the brutal beating of Rodney King. We explore the legacy King left behind and the ongoing challenges that still exist.

On April 29, 1992 four white LAPD officers were acquitted for the violent videotaped beating of black ex-convict Rodney King. What ensued was one of the biggest race riots in American history. Over a span of six days, over 50 people were killed, thousands injured and over $1 billion of the city’s properties were damaged and burned.

Among the television and film specials that are set to release today and in the coming days to commemorate the cultural and political impact of the King beating, ABC has teamed up with director John Ridley to air his documentary, Let It Fall: L.A. 1982-1992, a look into the violence that preceded the L.A. Riots and the years afterwards. Collaborating with Netflix, director Spike Lee takes a different turn, focusing on the tragic and imperfect figure that was Rodney King in his one-man show Rodney King, which is performed by actor Roger Guenveur Smith.

Despite the massive violence and the tragic deaths that were brought on by the L.A. Riots after the 1992 verdict, the incident opened white America’s eyes to the institutionalized racism that black Americans experienced everyday. King’s beating thrust the heavy conversation about race to the forefront of social consciousness and shed light on the brutality — some say, militarization — of the LAPD. In the ensuing years, the LAPD would dramatically change the diversity of its police force (which had been predominantly white), how it treated its minority communities, and would become an exemplary model on community policing. It would also eliminate the lifelong tenures of police chiefs to five-year terms. Today, it is also set to become the first major city to require body cameras on its entire police force.

Rodney King Photo by Douglas Burrows/Liaison/Getty Images

Rodney King pleads to the rioters to make peace on May 1, 1992. (Photo by Douglas Burrows/Liaison/Getty Images)

As for King, who had only been 25 at the time of his infamous beating, he would continue to have run-ins with the law and struggle with drugs and alcohol. In 2012, at the age of 47, King died by accidental drowning in his swimming pool.

Although King has been called a “reluctant civil rights icon,” his family remembers him as a “human not a symbol.” King, who urged for peace amid the rioting and forgave the officers who beat him, profoundly asked the question: “Can we all get along?”

Today, with the racial injustices and controversies that have befallen more black male victims at the hands of police like Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and the political uprising of Black Lives Matter, the question continues to haunt America and reaffirms there’s still much work to be done.