Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Rodney King: a name we will never forget
There are so many emotions stirred by the death of Rodney King. There’s the usual stuff that rises to the top whenever I hear his name. I get pissed off because his name reminds me of every time I’ve been stopped by the police for no other reason than driving while black, walking while black or shopping while black. His name reminds me of why I pray every morning before stepping out into the real world. As much as people refuse to admit it - it’s tough being a black man in America.
Black men have to be careful with how we talk about race. We get accused of using the race card or living with a victim mentality. People are quick to challenge us to pull up our pants by our bootstraps and take responsibility for what we have done to limit our own progress. We’re told that others struggle just like we do, and that it’s not our black skin combined with manhood that causes all the hostility others have toward us; it’s our attitude blocking progression toward that American Dream.
Rodney King is one of the many reminders of what happens when black men show up. Other example can be found: the Jena 6, Trayvon Martin, the harassment of Harvard Professor Skip Gates by police when he was unlocking his front door, the conviction of Brian Banks for a rape he didn’t commit, the wrongful conviction of Daryl Hunt for the death of a Winston-Salem journalist and the conviction of Mumia Abu Jamal for the death of a Philadelphia police officer. When a black man is arrested the first thought is he’s guilty until proven innocent.
The uproar that followed that release of that dreadful tape, that showed Los Angeles police beating King with their clubs, was stirred by years of police brutality. Complaints by citizens weren’t enough to convince authorities to change the unwritten code that gave a green light to beating black men expected of wrongdoing. The riots that followed reflected a community's pay back for being fed up with being used as beating boards.
When King came out and begged the world to “just get along,” his tone and face said more than his words. 53 people were dead after those riots, and the nation had become even more torn by race. Black people were incensed by the notion that black men deserved to be beaten, like former slaves, for minor acts of disobedience. Like the burning of Watts in August of 1965, it was in retaliation to police brutality. Enough is enough.
Few know the name Marquetta Frye, the 21-year-old black man pulled over by a white California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer. Frye was arrested and by midnight 13,900 people were in the streets protesting. Watts went up n flames, but few know Frye’s name. Few don’t know King’s name. That name, Rodney King, is synonymous with police brutality.
King’s drowning in his home pool won’t change any of that. His name will be remembered because he provided the evidence the black community needed. It showed up on tape. It couldn’t be refuted. It was no longer the word of the police against that of another black man griping about the abuse of power. It was there for the world to see. After the nation watched, the conversation regarding police brutality shifted. It no longer became a figment of the black community’s imagination, it was there to watch.
Rodney King’s body was sacrificed to uncover truth. The $3.5 million King received to compensate him for the blows on his body helped heal the ache of that night. The money paid for the brutality, but there are some things money can’t make go away.
No matter how much money a black man has in the bank, it’s not enough to avoid the suspension of those who assume him guilty for no other reason than the color of his skin.
Ask Skip Gates.