47-year-old Rodney King, whose beating by four white Los Angeles police officers in 1991 sparked massive race riots after their acquittal, has been found dead in a swimming pool today, June 17. King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, summoned police in Rialto, California, early this morning; they found him at the bottom of a swimming pool, removed him and sought to revive him. King was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
Authorities report “no initial signs of foul play,” says CNN, and will be conducting an investigation.
Kelly was one of the jurors at a lawsuit filed by King against the city of Los Angeles in 1994.
King’s beating by police and the race riots that followed changed not only Los Angeles but also sparked a wrenching national dialogue about race and social inequality in the US.
On March 3, 1991, LA police officers stopped King for speeding. He was struck more than 50 times with batons, kicked and shot with stun guns. Footage of the brutality, which left King with brain damage, was filmed by a bystander and broadcast over the world.
The acquittal of the four police officers on April 29, 1992, led to massive riots in Los Angeles that led to 53 deaths, over 2,300 injured, more than 7,000 fires, over 3,000 businesses damanged and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. After a day of widespread looting and fires, store owners in Los Angeles’ Korean American community, seeing Koreatown abandoned by the police, organized their own security teams and engaged in gunfire battles with looters. The California National Guard was called in as well as Marines from Camp Pendleton.
On the third day of the riots, King appeared at an impromptu new conference in front of his lawyers’ officers and said words would come to emblematize race relations in the US:
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
A second trial of the police officers led to two of them being convicted and King being awarded $3.8 million in compensation. An independent commission set up by then US Secretary of State Warren Christopher called for a vast overhaul of the LA police force — which was largely white and male – by increasing multiculturalism and shifting to a more community-focused style of policing. Prior to King’s beating, police officers had often referred to African-Americans as “monkeys” and “gorillas.”
King struggled with alcohol abuse and had published a book in 2012, The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption. According to CNN, he had recently forgiven the officers who had beaten him:
“Yes, I’ve forgiven them, because I’ve been forgiven many times. My country’s been good to me … This country is my house, it’s the only home I know, so I have to be able to forgive — for the future, for the younger generation coming behind me, so … they can understand it and if a situation like that happened again, they could deal with it a lot easier.”
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AP Photo/Matt Sayles, file