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Rodney King was an American taxi driver whose confrontation with the police led to the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots (Rissman, 2004). King was brutally beaten by officers belonging to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) after a car chase that resulted in a court case in which the officers involved were charged and acquitted for assault. The incident is used as a case study when discussing the issue of race and police brutality against African Americans and minority groups.
The incident was recorded by an onlooker who gave it to a local news station that highlighted the plight of King (Rissman, 2004). The incident raised concerns that even though the officers used excessive force and assaulted King, they were acquitted. The public was displeased with the ruling because it was discriminatory and a show of the widespread injustice meted on African Americans (Siegel & Worrall, 2011).
As a result, the Los Angeles riots erupted. The riots had severe consequences because 53 people died, property was destroyed, and thousands were wounded and arrested (Gooding-William, 2013). The government requested for grand jury indictments because it was evident that King’s rights were grossly violated during the hearing.
History of the incident
The infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the acquittal of the police officers who arrested King after a high-speed car chase (Rissman, 2004). King engaged police in a car chase because he was afraid of being charged for driving under the influence of alcohol. King was determined to avoid arrest because he had a previous robbery conviction. Prior to that incident, there were numerous cases of police brutality against African Americans and other members of minority groups.
This incident was interpreted by many people as a racial strike aimed at the African American community (Rissman, 2004). As mentioned earlier, the police officers assaulted King using a weapon and batons and used excessive force to arrest him (Gooding-William, 2013). During the period of the incident, a witness was standing on a balcony recording the happenings. The witness sent the tape to a local news station that aired it on their channel for the country to watch.
Trial and acquittal of police officers
The trial of the officers involved in the assault was to be held in Los Angeles. However, it was moved to Simi Valley because of fears that the publicity that the case had attracted would cause interference. The hearing raised eyebrows because of the absence of an African American member in the jury formed to decide the case. This absence was a source of objection because there were fears that King would not be tried fairly (Rissman, 2004). The jury acquitted the officers of all charges and ruled that they were innocent.
The acquittal evoked rage among some members of the public who initiated riots in South Central, Los Angeles. The riots led to several deaths and thousands of injuries. More than 9,000 people were arrested for participating in the incident that led to property damages of approximately $1 billion (Rissman, 2004). The riots also involved illegal activities such as looting and arson. King made a statement that is still used today to unite the different races in America. He asked the people to get along and embrace each other.
Aftermath of the hearing
The injustice committed against King was evident and as a result charges were filed against the officers. It is against the American constitution to deny an individual their civil rights regardless of the situation or context. The Los Angeles Police Department chief resigned after his officers were charged for assaulting King and violating his civil rights (Gooding-William, 2013). He was replaced by an African American chief who served during an important period in the reformation of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Even though King was compensated for injuries sustained, he continued to live a troubled life until his untimely death. He was later arrested for domestic violence and driving under the influence. In an interview that took place during an anniversary of the riots, King said that he had moved on and forgiven the officers.
The conviction of two officers and the resignation of LAPD chief provided evidence that the King case involved racial intolerance. The jury that decided the case favored the officers because they were white. History is awash with such cases of racial profiling that led to denial of justice.
King entered the books of American history after his assault evoked riots that aimed to address racial tension in America. His call for people to get along is a common refrain that is repeated during discussions involving matters related to racism (Gooding-William, 2013). Moreover, he talked about forgiving the officers who had beaten him. Even though the incident was not racial, the media made it look like a case of racial discrimination. Sociologists and political analysts have discussed the incident from different perspectives over the years.
A section of politicians maintain that it was a racial strike against the African American community while sociologists argue that it was a case of police officers maintaining law and order by arresting a convicted felon and an offender driving under the influence of alcohol (Cole, 2010). The debates have not prevented the riots from becoming historical because of the role they played in resurrecting discussions about racism in America.
The issue of racism is still prevalent America’s justice system more than 20 years after the Los Angeles riots. African Americans and other minority groups are not treated in the same manner as the dominant races (Cole, 2010). This is evident from statistics released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that showed that approximately 17 percent of African Americans born in 2001 are likely to serve jail sentences at a certain stage in their lives (Cole, 2010).
African Americans are a minority group because they make up 12 percent of the country’s population. However, they comprise 40 percent of prisoners in correctional facilities (Cole, 2010). This number is very high relative to that of whites and raises concerns regarding the fairness of the criminal justice system. The question whether these figures are a result of racism or other factors has been a source of heated debates for many years.
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Sociologists argue that the numbers result from factors such as social inequality and poverty. This argument has been partially invalidated by studies and reports released by not-for-profit organizations. For instance, a report released by Research and Development (RAND) Corporation showed that African Americans are treated more harshly than whites by law enforcement officers (Noisette, 2000). In addition, defendants are treated unfairly hence the high number of inmates in prisons.
This unfair treatment is also evident in the number of arrests. In 2010, more than 30 percent of all cases of incarcerations involved African Americans (Noisette, 2000). Arrests for trafficking and drug possession are high primarily due to the aspect of racial profiling applied by police during arrests. The majority of jurors in the criminal justice system are white (Siegel & Worrall, 2011).
This has raised concerns of inequality in the system. Inequality was one of the factors that led to the denial of King’s justice during his trial. The report by RAND Corporation also showed that sentences awarded to African Americans are longer compared to those awarded to whites (Noisette, 2000). This disparity is proof enough that racism and discrimination are still prevalent in the criminal justice system and need to be addressed effectively.
Racism is a critical issue that the American society deals with. For instance, the criminal justice system has been accused of racial profiling and treating members of minority groups unjustly. Research studies have established that African Americans and other minority groups are treated unfairly compared to whites. The 1992 Los Angeles riots initiated a debate regarding the issue of racism in America.
The assault of King and the consequent acquittal of the police officers involved in the incident was a case of racial discrimination and profiling within the criminal justice system. Despite the existence of evidence incriminating the officers, they were acquitted of all charges by the jury. The government needs to address the issue of racism because it has far-reaching consequences on the country’s social wellbeing and economic development.
Any justice system that puts up with injustice is weak, ineffective, and unfit for any nation. The Los Angeles riots resulted in arson, deaths, and injuries of participants. However, it was an historical event that highlighted the plight of minority groups and initiated open discussions regarding racism in America.
Cole, D. (2010). No equal Justice. New York, NY: ReadHowyYouWant.com.
Gooding-William, R. (2013). Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising. New York, NY: Routledge.
Noisette, L. (2000). The Color of Justice. Web.
Rissman, R. (2004). Rodney King and the L.A. Riots. New York, NY: ABDO Publishing Company.
Siegel, L., & Worrall, J. (2011). Introduction to Criminal Justice. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.