Rodney King, the man whose beatings caught on videotape sparked the Los Angeles riots 20 years ago, was found at the bottom of his swimming pool by his fiance early this morning.
His fiancee Cynthia Kelly called police, but officers were unable to revive him after he was removed from the pool. There were no preliminary signs of foul play, according to police, but an autopsy will be conducted.
King, who recently released a memoir of his ordeals called The Riot Within, had become a household name in the black community over the past two decades because his beating became such a pivotal moment in the cause for racial justice in the U.S. Though African Americans had long complained of brutal treatment by the police, King’s beating after a traffic stop was a rare case of that treatment being caught on film for the whole world to see. After the four officers charged in the beating were acquitted by an all-white jury in the trial, which had been moved to the white suburb of Simi Valley, the black community in Los Angeles exploded in violence—where ironically the brutal beating of Reginald Denny by blacks was also caught on tape.
King, alarmed by all the violence, then made his unforgettable plea: “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?”
King later was awarded $3.8 million after a civil trial.
In an interview on MSNBC, Rev. Jesse Jackson said he responded to the news of King’s death with “a great measure of sadness.”
“He has become such a fixture in our lives,” he said. “The tragedy of his situation created unintended consequences. It illuminated the darkness of tragic racial profiling, police brutality and injustices in our criminal justice system.”
Jackson said “the link from Rodney King to Trayvon Martin to the march in New York City [protesting the city police department’s stop-and-frisk policies] is an unbroken line and reminds us of the flaw in the moral character of our country.”