June 18, 2012
RIP: Rodney King
by Dennis Johnson
Just weeks after publishing a memoir called The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, Rodney King, famous for being beaten savagely by a group of Los Angeles policeman, has died.
According to a New York Times report by Jennifer Medina,
The police in Rialto, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, said they received a 911 call at 5:25 a.m. Sunday from [his fiancee] Ms. Kelley, who reported finding him in the pool that Mr. King had built himself, inscribing the date of his beating and the start of the riots in two tiles. Emergency personnel tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:11 a.m.
Capt. Randy De Anda said that Mr. King had been at the pool throughout the early morning and had been talking to Ms. Kelley, who was in the house at the time. Neighbors reported hearing music, talking and crying before hearing a splash.
Foul play is not suspected; that last bit about crying may tell the story. Because King’s struggles were many and heartbreaking, especially after his beating at the hands of LA’s finest. He had trouble kicking drugs and booze, he couldn’t find work, and there were numerous more arrests, even as he was expected to be a spokesman for better race relations. As the Times notes in its report, King wrote in his book that “he had once blamed politicians and lawyers ‘for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.'”
The most memorable instance of that expectation, of course, was when he was paraded out for a press conference amidst the explosive LA Riots — which broke out when an all-white jury found the four white cops video-taped beating King innocent — and all the visibly quaking King could think of to say was the hauntingly eloquent, “Can we all just get along?”
At the end, King said all he had was the money from his book advance. He’d won a civil suit against the city that resulted in his being awarded $3.8 million, but much of that went to legal fees, although he did buy a house with a pool … and he claimed that, while he still drank and did drugs, he was making progress. “I realize I will always be the poster child for police brutality,” he wrote in his book, “but I can try to use that as a positive force for healing and restraint.”
A recent interview with the Guardian, given when his book tour took him to London, certainly made it seem he was nowhere near healed yet, but one can hope his book’s subtitle was something more than heartfelt sentiment to him.
And maybe he would have been pleased to hear the statement issued by LA’s police chief, Charlie Beck, as per a Los Angeles Times report:
“Rodney King has a unique spot in both the history of Los Angeles and the LAPD. What happened on that cool March night over two decades ago forever changed me and the organization I love. His legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence wrought on this city and its Police Department.”
Rodney King was 47.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.