Rodney King (1991)

On March 3, 1991, police officers pulled over Rodney King after a high-speed car chase that lasted several miles.  Five officers surrounded King as he exited the vehicle and, after a short time, began viciously beating him.  Unbeknownst to the officers, an observer, George Holliday, filmed the entire incidR_King_beatingent.  The footage then aired on television stations across the country, adding fueling to existing racial tensions in certain cities.  Almost all of the officers involved appeared in court and they all were acquitted of the charges.  These events, it is widely believed, contributed to the Los Angeles riots of 1992.

Part of the reason that the footage held the nation captive laid in the immediacy and urgency the candid piece of film possessed.  It appeared uncut and unedited, as if viewers at home could be watching it happen live.  The video contained a certain authenticity due to the fact that it was a home movie.  These facts, coupled with the Regan-era criminalization of blacks, set up the perfect storm of anger and hostility.  Following the verdict of the trials, people took to the streets in outrage, providing the opportunity for news outlets to continue showing a version of “liveness.”  The power and impact of these events was mimicked in numerous television shows at the time—including Doogie Hower, M.D. and L.A. Law.

 


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