What Do Dreamers and Rodney King Have in Common?


Written by Roberto Cintli Rodriguez

After ten years of congressional stonewalling on the Dream Act, the President acted — and for many of the undocumented students affected, Obama’s executive order is akin to a modern-day version of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Of course, just like anything else done by the President (or his foes), it was a political move. But so, too, is the act of dehumanization: For only when people are dehumanized can they be viewed in the eyes of the law as less than human, as less deserving of their full human rights.

The death of Rodney King reminds us of this.

While seemingly unrelated, dehumanization is the common thread that runs through both the Rodney King and Dreamer narratives.

The lack of justice for King triggered an urban rebellion, unprecedented in U.S. history in its scope and rage. What could trigger such unadulterated violence?

The answer is very simple: King’s beating was not at all uncommon. People of color understood that kind of violence when the saw it play out on their TV sets. The King beating embodied a violence that has been systemic throughout history, and often utilized as a means of control. That it was videotaped is what made it unique.

Such violence can only be employed successfully if a people or population is considered less than human. In history, this was usually accomplished through the use of religious or “God-mandated” ideas; i.e., Providence and Manifest Destiny. The Doctrine of Discovery served the same purpose. Since no “human beings” (read Christians) existed on the American continent, Christians were free to violently take the land. Not being Christian was the same as not being human.

In examining history, can we honestly say that these ideas have gone away completely?

In 1992, the King trial only confirmed what men of color have been complaining about for generations – that they are constantly being beat down and treated as less than a human being, sans justice.

Like many, I am no stranger to that reality. I lived through something similar in 1979 in East Los Angeles. What made my case unique is that despite being brutally beaten and falsely arrested, I actually won my trial, not once but twice.

At the moment, we’re all digesting President Obama’s immigration announcement. It appears that one of the ugliest chapters in modern human history is about to end.

And yet those increasingly familiar voices, those commonly heard on AM talk radio and in the halls of power, are shouting at the top of their lungs, accusing the President of committing treason. They are determined to not only derail the President and his plan, but also to oppose any policy that treats undocumented immigrants with the dignity and respect of full human beings.

Only when dehumanization becomes normalized can inhumane policies and decisions be justified. Those opposed to the president’s announcement long ago normalized the view that undocumented immigrants are either criminals or terrorists, and certainly something less than human.

The familiar refrain of the anti-immigrant bloc has long been: “What don’t you understand about the word ‘illegal’?” Apparently, their own lack of humanity blinds them to the concept. Many of these young students, who will now be able to continue on with their studies and work in 2-year increments, were brought to this country as infants or very small children. They know no country other than this one. But forget compassion; let’s examine the law. To commit a crime, one needs to be conscious that one is committing a crime. A 3-month old infant cannot legally commit a crime, therefore it is impossible for that child to ever be prosecuted or branded as a criminal.

In making his announcement, the President made the mistake of pandering to the critics of immigration reform, by saying that these young people came to this country through “no fault of their own.” Implicit in his words was the idea that it is the parents who are at fault — even though the moral lesson we learn from history is that parents attempting to better the lives of their children are not committing a crime, but rather, following the natural laws of survival.

Congress will soon have another opportunity to treat both the students and their parents as full human beings by passing the Dream Act later this year. To do anything less will be to abscond from their responsibility. The time has come for Congress to resolve the nation’s immigration issues. But human beings, not walls or the military, have to be at the center of any proposed solution. Failure to do so will simply prolong the human crisis.

This post was originally published by New America Media.


Related Stories:

Rodney King, LA Riots Figure, Found Dead at 47

Native American Allegedly Branded in Hate Crime

Romney’s New Immigration Policy a Mystery


AP Photo/Courtesy of KTLA Los Angeles, George Holliday


Evelyn M.
Evelyn M5 years ago

The famous comment "can't we all just get along"!!!

Christine C.
Chandra C5 years ago


Carl Oerke
Carl O5 years ago

I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with Vladimir about Rodney King. While it is true that he was on parole and under the influence when he was caught speeding and trying to evade capture and being returned to jail, the punishment ie. the beating was far worse than the crime. It also documented a well known, rampant and systemic overuse of violence by the LAPD on minorities. Finally, when the police officers got off and the riots ensued it was Mr. King who asked the demonstrators for calm and asked "Can't we all just get along?" In the years following his televised beating King battled depression and substance abuse. I am sure that had I walked in his shoes I would have battled the same demons. But to say that the world is better off with him dead is very hateful. He was a troubled man who was treated horribly by the system and suffered the repercussions of that treatment. And I for one am saddened by what he had to endure and by his death.

Vladimir M.
Vladimir M5 years ago

are you kidding me!? Rodney King was a common criminal! He was beaten by the Police after achase ,he refused to surender,was under the influence and fighting back. Besides that a few years later he was arrested for a possetion of drugs, one more time for driving while. intoxicated.... should I go on!? The world is better of with him dead!

Suzanne L.
Suzanne L5 years ago

Thank you for the article. It generated some powerful comments.

Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy5 years ago

We all break the law...read the book called 7 Felonys per day..check the old laws on the books of our country...in the State of Washington there was a law that was very old that said you could not remarry unless your spouse was dead..I read it and last I knew after reading it several times it is still on the books of that state.....

There are many old old laws still on the books of states that make anyone a criminal all the time....

I watch book TV and watched the review of a book called 7 Felonys per day that we all commit...so lets get off the criminal issue......

Secondly, I do not believe in beating anyone up....that never solves a crime problem no matter who what when...although I myself have wanted to punch a few people in my life I did not....

Americans values are being repressed by volatile government and law enforcement....and their violation of our free speech...I hate everyone...alll....so there.....sue me....i am an equal opportunity hater.....of the violations of our free speech our free lives our free everything being downed by global cultures.......and believe me if i was kept in a job by a church i would think that that church would sin against anyone......

I see no change in our country unless we all come to terms with the fact that our ancestors behaved badly....if i were to see many of my ancestors they would not like me at allllllllllllll and i am ashamed of my ancestors that chose their big business over the backs of any type of involuntar

Steve R.
Steve R5 years ago

"What Do Dreamers and Rodney King Have in Common?".....

Nothing - except that they're both LAWBREAKERS.

In case the bleeding heart liberals have forgotten, King robbed a store in Monterey Park, California. He threatened to hit the Korean store owner with an iron bar he was carrying, then hit him with a pole. King stole two hundred dollars in cash during the robbery, and was caught, convicted, and sentenced to two years of imprisonment and released after only serving a year of the two-year sentence.

And let's not forget that he was beaten after an 8 mile high speed chase, while under the influence of alcohol, while on parole, after resisting arrest and attacking the officers.

He was no hero - okay?

I wonder what the "Dreamers" would say about "having something in common with King"?

Che J.
Che J.5 years ago

I grew up in the south in the 50's where Blacks were lynched, beaten, forced to walk in the gutters of streets, and prohibited from access to most city services, including libraries and playgrounds, while white people smirked and laughed. That level of open hearted hate has gone underground, but of course still exists. I'm sure Debra G does not admit this on her best day. Pam W does not have to be a rabid Republican to be ignorant and a bigot - she's achieved that on her own, And as for Sarah H - The real question is -why is our own country, the US, so crummy? We have the poorest children in the western world. We have the lowest minimum wage. We have a rapidly declining lifespan. Gosh girls, there's so much you could be doing for the US, like leaving.

Jen Matheson
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you sharing this wonderful article with us.

Wendy Johnson

To Sarah H., who says, "...what are we saying to the people who have waited and gone through the correct channels and come here the right way..."

What? We are saying NOTHING to adults who are looking to enter the United States, when we set up a way for kids, who were brought here, to earn legal status, through hard work and good character. Educate yourself: The DREAM Act is for people who were brought here as children. They had no choice about coming. Would you have them to skulk in the shadows their whole life? Or go back to a place that was never home to them, because someone else brought them to the US before they were old enough to have any say in it?