It was 25 years ago today that a group of Los Angeles police officers were caught on tape repeatedly kicking and hitting Rodney King, as he lay on the ground. It was around 1AM when it happened and a guy named George Holliday videotaped the incident from his apartment. The graphic tape was soon run on a loop on CNN. It ushered in a new era in news coverage, perhaps the first truly viral video, long before the dawn of YouTube. A year later, a jury found the police officers not guilty on all counts. Riots quickly engulfed much of Los Angeles. Dozens were killed. Thousands were arrested. More than a billion dollars in damage was caused.
A few years ago, we released a podcast featuring the final interview Rodney King ever did. It came to us from Bobbi Booker, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune. Bobbi had spoken with King on April 16, 2012. He was promoting his autobiography, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. King died of an apparent drowning that June.
Here’s what Bobbi recalled looking back at that interview:
Rodney King was not a person that many people had interviewed. So I called his home. He was in his kitchen overlooking the pool that he would eventually be found dead in several weeks later, and he was pouring himself a beverage to chat with me. When you speak with people who are in the public eye, they sort of know how to hit their mark. They’re almost always saying the same old thing. Rodney King, on the other hand, kind of surprised me. I was struck by how “average Joe” he really seemed to be. He was just a regular guy who had gone through an extraordinary set of circumstances and was still trying to come to grips with the direction his life had taken him. I found the person who was a reluctant famous individual who was really juggling how to deal with fame, and family, and simply himself.
Here’s the tape of Rodney King in our podcast.
I just want to say: Can we all get along? Can we get along? For me those words have worked. That’s just how I was raised. When I’m challenged to fight, first thing is: Can’t we all get along? I’ve had people say, “I want to kick your ass” when that happens. Excuse my language. “I wanted to beat you. I wanted to hurt you bad when you said that.”
Have you come to a sense of forgiveness about the men that were involved in their assault of you?
Yeah. Oh yeah, I have. Because it took me time to realize in order for you to float you’re going to have to forgive these guys. Because that’s what I’ve learned over the years: if God can forgive us, then who am I to hold a grudge? Just leave it in his hands. Whenever the time comes, law of retribution will catch up with them.
You tend to stay on the radar. With reality shows, and you’ve talked about your struggles with addiction. You’ve really laid you life to bear. So what’s coming up next after the book?
Well, I really appreciate being an American Negro, and I know the struggle the American Negro has went through over the years to be here still alive. And I can look back and see the events that have occurred before me and that have occurred after my situation. And I am truly a blessed person, a blessed Negro American to be alive here. And I get chills up and down my body today at the age of 47 just knowing that I have survived all these years as a black man. And I know I haven’t been an angel over the years and everything, but I haven’t been the worst either.
It’s very interesting to hear your use of the word “negro.” Is it embracement or just maintaining the old folks style or what?
I’m just holding on to my heritage. Holding on to my heritage. It’s the first way I know how. And the first way I know how as a Negro American, a lot of work went into that. It took a lot of pain and life taking its time over the years. It’s on my birth certificate so I’d like to hang on to that one. African American is cool, but I like my Negro American because of the work, the marches, the deaths, the whipping, the relief of slavery. All that belongs to the Negro American. You call me African American, but I want my credit as a Negro American. I don’t know it’s going to go about at the end, but I’m working every day on my respect as a Negro American here in this country.
I thought it would be good for my grandkids and my kids if they could have something to read close my words. It was very important to me to have my words out there in a book so my grandkids and my kids could read it for themselves and then if they ever need it on tape or anything like that, which they will.