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Rodney King On LA Riots 20 Years Later: 'America's Been Good To Me After I Paid The Price' (VIDEO)

By JOHN ROGERS 04/24/12 06:56 PM ET AP

LOS ANGELES -- We saw his face a bloody, pulpy mess. And in 1992, when the four Los Angeles Police officers who beat him after a traffic stop were acquitted, it touched off anger that affected an entire generation. Now, 20 years later, this is the face of Rodney King, and this is what has happened to him in the interim.

He's been a record company executive and a reality TV star among many other things.

To millions of Americans, though, he will always be either a victim of one of the most horrific cases of police brutality ever videotaped or just a hooligan who didn't stop when police attempted to pull him over.

He's indisputably the black motorist whose beating on a darkened LA street led to one of the worst race riots in American history.

It's been an up-and-down ride for King since he went on television at the height of those riots and pleaded in a quavering voice, "Can we all get along?"

He's been arrested numerous times, mostly for alcohol-related crimes. In a recent interview with The Associated Press he said, "I still sip, I don't get drunk."

He has been to a number of rehab programs, he said, including the 2008 appearance on "Dr. Drew" Pinsky's "Celebrity Rehab" program.

Still, he was arrested again just last year for driving under the influence.

It was his fear of being stopped for drunken driving on March 3, 1991, King said, that initially led him to try to evade police who attempted to pull him over for speeding.

After he did stop, four LA police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns. A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a local TV station.

After a jury with no black members acquitted the officers on April 29, 1992, the city's black community exploded in rage. Fifty-five people died, more than 2,000 were injured over three days.

King received a $3.8 million settlement from the city, but said he lost most it to bad investments, among them a hip-hop record label he founded that quickly went broke.

He makes money these days taking part in events like celebrity boxing matches. He's also promoting his just-published memoir, "The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption."

A tall, physically imposing man who is disarmingly friendly, self-effacing and soft-spoken, King, 47, maintains he is happy.

"America's been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all," he says. "This part of my life is the easy part now."

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Journalists and public citizens risked their lives to document the violence and destruction in the streets and twenty years later, the videos are still as powerful as ever. Watch the Rodney King riot videos below but please be warned: the content is graphic and might not be suitable for sensitive viewers.
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  • 'If You're White, You Don't Belong Here Tonight'

    This video shows sheer mayhem in the streets -- and not one policeman or police car is to be found. Bottles and bricks are thrown at cars, windows are smashed with crowbars, and individuals, including a man who appears to be Asian, are mugged from within their cars.

  • Chief Gates Called LAPD 'A Model Department'

    News coverage of the infamous video of three police officers, who were with 12 other officers, beating Rodney King. LAPD Chief Daryl Gates says that the officers struck King with batons 53 to 56 times. While many said this was an example of an ongoing problem of police brutality, Chief Gates called the LAPD a model department.

  • The Verdict: 'It Was Never Even Close'

    On April 29, 1992, the jury acquitted all four officers of assault and acquitted three of the four of using excessive force. Some said the fact that the jury was made up on ten whites, one Latino and one Asian gave an unfair advantage to the white defendants. "Everyone says, 'The video tape! The video tape!' These officers have a job to do. And in doing that job, they have to be given a certain amount of... reasonable force," one juror told ABC. "They didn't know what they had to take. A man that's over 230 pounds, and you put him on the ground, and four officers go in to put hand cuffs on him. And he throws those officers off?" Anther juror said about the violent reaction to the verdict, "I can't help but feel somewhat responsible." And yet, he said, if he had to do it again, he would vote the same way.

  • 'Looks Like A Bomb Has Hit'

    A severely injured truck driver, Larry, describes being pulled out of his truck and being beaten up. The video also includes interviews with angry reactors near USC, a business owner, rioters and looters, including kids. Looters can be seen inside stores taking what they please, while police officers stand by and watch.

  • 'A Lack Of Morality'

    Scenes of rioting in the streets are depicted, including individuals being pulled out of their cars and beaten in the streets; the police attempting to control rioters; large retail stores set on fire by fire bombs; and looters ignored as the police focus on protecting firefighters trying to put out fires.

  • National Guard Descends On LA

    The National Guard arrives to attempt to squelch rioting, and a curfew is put on the city. "It's really hard for us. We're just outnumbered," a police man said. Another officer described the department's strategy in the area as patrolling but not responding to calls. An Asian female business owner whose store was looted told a reporter, "I'm mad at who? No one. I don't know who's for."

  • 'You're On Your Own Here'

    "You're on your own here," one cop told this videographer. Another man said, "What's goin' on is.. They're doing it in the wrong area. The thing that they're doing it's the right thing, but they need to go to Beverly Hills. We can't be tearin' up our own stuff." After a gun goes off next to a woman and a young child, a man comments, "We have to live here, OK?"

  • Rodney King: 'Can We All Get Along?'

    This is a clip of the first time Rodney King spoke to the media after the riots began. The short speech can be seen in its entirety at 0:53 <a href="" target="_hplink">of this video</a>. In it, he appeals for peace in the streets. Here's the transcript of the speech: <blockquote>I just want to say, you know, can we, can we all get along? Can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? And... I mean we've got enough smog in Los Angeles let alone to deal with setting these fires and things. It's just not right. It's not right. And it's not going to change anything. We'll get our justice. They've won the battle, but they haven't won the war. We'll get our day in court and that's all we want. And, just, uh, I love -- I'm neutral, I love every -- I love people of color. I'm not like they're making me out to be. We've got to quit. We've got to quit. Afterall, I mean, I could understand the first, the first upset for the first two hours after the verdict, but to go on, to keep going on like this and to see the security guard shot on the ground. It's just not right. It's just not right. Because those people will never go home to their families again. And uh, I mean please, we can, we can get along here. We all can get along. We just gotta, we gotta. I mean, we're all stuck here for a while. Let's, you know, let's try to work it out. Let's try to beat it, you know. Let's try and work it out.</blockquote>

  • A Heroic Story

    A man who risked his life to save another who was being beaten in his own car is interviewed.

  • Injustice Felt In Their Bones

    A woman expresses her lost faith in the justice system, saying that if the police "beat up on" her brothers or only son, she's not going to take them to court. She's going to "put a hit out on them." An older, wheelchair-bound man says that it's a shame that this is how it has to be done but that a message needs to be sent to the world.


Filed by Anna Almendrala  |