LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – It was three decades ago Wednesday that one of the most defining moments in Los Angeles history took place, changing the face of the city forever.
On March 3, 1991, a plumber named George Holliday recorded four white LAPD officers using batons, Tasers, feet and fists to beat a Black man later identified as Rodney King.
Holliday had been asleep in his Lake View Terrace apartment when he was awakened by a commotion that prompted him to grab his Sony Handycam and record the attack outside his apartment building.
King, an unemployed construction worker who had been drinking and was on probation for a robbery conviction, was instructed to pull over for speeding on a Los Angeles freeway. He eventually stopped his car in front of Holliday’s apartment building, where the traffic stop devolved into a violent confrontation as officers trying to subdue King pounded on him repeatedly.
King was left with skull fractures, broken bones and teeth and permanent brain damage.
The videotape of officers repeatedly hitting King as he writhed on the ground shocked the world. Then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates resigned and a commission headed by future U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was formed to oversee a major overhaul of tactics and policies within the LAPD, which was accused of fostering a culture of institutional racism and excessive force.
When the four officers involved in the King beating were acquitted a year later of excessive use of force by a jury in Ventura County, five days of rioting ensued in Los Angeles, resulting in 54 deaths, some 2,400 injuries, scores of destroyed buildings and other property damage, and more than 12,000 arrests. The acquitted police officers were later convicted of violating Rodney King’s civil rights in a federal court trial.
King was awarded $3.8 million as the result of a lawsuit stemming from the beating, and a judge ordered the city to provide an additional $1.6 million that he could use to pay his attorneys.
King, a Sacramento native, died in Rialto on June 17, 2012 at the age of 47 of what was described as an accidental drowning.
Holliday told The New York Times last year that he still works as a plumber, never profiting from the video, which was still in the possession of federal authorities.
He told the paper he had purchased the video camera about a month before the King beating, and he grabbed it instinctively when he and his wife were awakened by the police ruckus outside his window.
“You know how it is when you have a new piece of technology,” he told the Times. “You film anything and everything.”
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)