The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

30 Years Since Rodney King

Apr 25, 2022

It has been 30 years since a jury acquitted four Los Angeles cops, most of whom were white, involved in the brutal beating of Rodney King, a black man.

A bystander videotaped King’s beating with a camcorder and the video was seen widely across the world. The falseness of the jury’s decision was so obvious to most people, the verdict provided the spark that lit the tinder box of racism, inequality, lack of opportunity and poverty in L.A. The angry black population of Los Angeles erupted in revolt, or what the media referred to as “rioting.”

The so-called “rioters” first took aim at the stores in the richer neighborhoods, but officials quickly mobilized the National Guard, Army, Marines and California Highway Patrol to protect the wealthy neighborhoods. They pushed the “rioters” back into South Central L.A., the heart of the black community, where they looted and torched markets and small stores.

The outpouring of anger by the black population drew in immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries who had themselves been victimized, as well as some young whites. The bosses’ media gave a lot of attention to the beating of a white truck driver, Reginald Denny, by the people in the neighborhood. Denny perhaps found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was also a victim of long-simmering racial tensions.

It took six days for authorities to establish some kind of control. When it was over, it is estimated over 60 people had been killed, none of them cops, almost 2,400 injured, and over 12,000 arrested. L.A.’s Chief of Police Daryl Gates resigned.

These riots, for a moment, made the authorities at least step a bit more lightly. Changes—most, but not all of them, cosmetic—were made in the police department. And repercussions from the Los Angeles riots were felt far away. In Detroit, cops accused of killing a young black man, Malice Green, under similar circumstances were quickly arrested, put on trial, and convicted. City authorities felt the tremors spreading through Detroit after the L.A. riots.

These changes, however, were short-lived. The federal government provided funding for “victims of looting and arson” and the Rebuild L.A. program promised 6 billion dollars in private investment to create 74,000 jobs. Yet a survey of local residents in 2010 found 77% thought the economic situation had worsened there.

One long-lasting change did come out of the beating of Rodney King and its aftermath. The widespread viewing of the video of the incident captured by a bystander with a camcorder has encouraged others to do the same and has been made much easier with the advent of smartphones.

We’ve all seen far too many, far too outrageous examples of police brutality caught on video, which has resulted in some fights being made to stop them in the 30 years since. There was a similar, though smaller revolt in Baltimore over the horrific treatment of Freddie Gray by the Baltimore police. The Black Lives Matter movement, which gained even more momentum after the murder of George Floyd, has brought more attention to the issue.

Nevertheless, incidents of police brutality have not stopped and far too often the cops have gotten off scot-free. Cops have killed around 1,100 people each year since 2013, according to Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research group, with little change since George Floyd’s murder in 2020. While half of those shot are white, black people are killed at a rate disproportionate to their numbers in the population. Black people are twice as likely as whites to be killed by the cops.

The cops serve a role as a repressive force to maintain order for the ruling class in this racist capitalist society that always defends inequality in the distribution of wealth and leaves a portion of the population out. They will continue to do so as long as the system is allowed to remain in place.