In 1991, Rodney King was brutally beaten while being arrested for drunk driving on the I-210 by four Los Angeles police officers. A bystander filmed the incident and sent the tape to local news station KTLA. Then L.A. County District Attorney Ira Reiner charged the officers with assault and use of excessive force.
In 1992, a jury acquitted all four officers of assault and three officers of use of excessive force. Soon after, Angelenos took to the streets to riot, set fires, and loot in what is now called the 1992 L.A. Uprising.
Lora King, Rodney’s daughter and the founder and executive director of the Rodney King Foundation, recalls seeing the video of her dad being beaten on television when she was 7 years old. She said she didn’t know it was her father until she saw his name pop up on the screen.
“At the time, I didn’t know how to process it, and as I looked around the room, I saw everyone’s reaction, and that’s when I knew it was my dad,” she said. “I didn't know how to feel because I really did think that he wouldn’t have made it given what was done to him. I really didn't think that he was alive after that.”
Lora said her father was never the same after his beating.
“A big part of him died that night that we will never get back, and that's the part that hurts the most," she said. "Most people think that you're supposed to recover after that, and to be quite honest, there's no normal after that. And that's a nightmare that everybody has to relive.”
Rodney struggled with his mental and physical health after 1991.
“He was a very strong guy, and I’ve never seen him cry, but I know I’ve spent countless nights crying, as well as my sisters. We still do to this day, so I can only imagine what he went through every day, but of course he demonstrated otherwise. He always tried to make everybody laugh and make everybody who was around him feel good. He never wanted anybody to feel anything that he was going through, so that's one thing that's always sat in me through life that he never wanted to project his pain through other people. He always tried to do the opposite,” she said.
Lora said it was “sickening” to see George Floyd die at the hands of four former Minneapolis police officers. She relates to Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, who will grow up without her father. Although Rodney didn’t die after being beaten by police officers, Lora remembers how painful it was to see “Rodney King” flash across the television screen.
“Right when I see a little sense of hope, then there's another viral video, and then I think another child has to go through what myself and my sisters had to go through over and over and over,” Lora said. “And this is something that never goes away because again, we live in a virtual world where everything is on the internet, YouTube, social media, so they'll never be able to escape the pain that they experienced when they watch this for the first time.”
Similar to “Rodney King,” “George Floyd” will be a household name thirty years from now, Lora said.
“Nothing has changed except for everybody having a cell phone. Nobody’s using video cameras; everybody is using cell phones,” Lora said. “We’re seeing more nationalities protesting, whereas before it was all African American. Now, that’s the only sense of hope that I have that I see other people tapping into their empathy side of things and realizing that this is a human thing, not a Black thing.”
During her interview, Lora wore a T-shirt that read, “Can we all be equal?” Her father was famous for asking the question, “Can we all get along?”
“It's a question and a statement, because it’s obvious that we can’t be equal because we’re still being slaughtered and executed in front of the world, and they’re very aware that people are videotaping,” Lora said. “The same with, ‘Can we all get along?’ It’s obvious that we can’t because it’s still the same thing happening to us repetitively.”
Eight years ago, on June 17, 2012, Rodney died on Father’s Day. Today, Lora has a 1-year-old son of her own.
“It’s personal from that aspect of having the experience of living through that. Fortunately my father didn’t pass that night, but like I said before, a big part of him did pass,” Lora said. “It’s very personal because I have an African American son who’s innocent. And I'm sure when he is able to walk and talk and play, he's going to be playing with all nationalities, walks of life, without a care in the world, without feeling that he needs to protect himself or things like that.”
Lora said it's hard to find the words, but if she could say something to Gianna and every other girl who has lost her father to police brutality it would be that no one should have to go through something similar.
“I wish there was some advice I could give, but I can't do any of that because I don't wish that upon anybody,” she said. “No one should have to go through that, let alone a little black girl, or anybody, an alien girl, or whatever the case may be. It just so happens that they’re Black, and I’m Black.”
Lora said healing starts with looking to God or getting help from a support person.
“There’s no words I can say of comfort because when I went through what I went through, no one could say anything to make me feel better, let alone when my dad passed,” she said. “I just encourage them to walk in their father’s light. That’s what I do. I use my father’s strength, and I watched how he handled adversity, and I watched how he handled people who mishandled him, and I admired that.”
Lora started the Rodney King Foundation after her father died. She said she uses her father’s legacy to keep him alive. The foundation works to promote peace and the idea of “getting along” that Rodney supported.
Lora said the inspiration for the foundation actually came from Rodney himself. Lora used to visit Skid Row twice a month to feed the homeless. When Rodney found out that Lora used her own money to buy food, he suggested that she start a foundation. She didn’t feel inspired to do so until he died.
“Last year, we launched a scholarship in honor of African American men to basically highlight African American men as fathers and just help lift the financial burden of them spending time with their kids,” she said.
Recipients of the I AM A KING scholarship will have all of their costs covered to spend a day doing fun, family-building activities with their children. Lora said this scholarship was created to honor fathers who want to spend time with their children but can’t afford to.
“We’re looking for people to sponsor fathers, sponsor families, so we can honor these scholarships,” she said.
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