Politics (The Rodney King Show): June 1992

Politics: The Rodney King Show


“The court system has worked, and what’s needed now is calm and respect for the law until the appeals process takes place.” – George Bush

“Sometimes police work is brutal. That’s just a fact of life.” – Sergeant Koon, testifying in defense of his actions in the King incident.

“They’re policeman, they’re not angels. They’re out there to do a low-down, dirty job.” – Koon’s lawyer and 10 year vet of the LAPD.

The Rodney King Show: June 1992What we saw on TV of the beating administered to Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD was, in fact, an isolated incident.

It was one of the few times that the mainstream public has had an opportunity to witness “business as usual” between the working and lower class community and the law enforcement officers who are hired to keep us in our place. The only unusual circumstance was that the event was widely broadcast to a general public which feels thusly about America’s dysfunctional cities, and ultimately, of our “supply side” economics which favors corporations and further disenfranchises an already alienated and enslaved majority: I don’t care.

We musn’t blame the jury that handed down the acquittal for refusing to believe the evidence of their senses in watching the obviously criminal actions of LA’s finest in action. First of all, the grand jury which indicted Sergeant Koon, Officers Powell and Briseno and ex-Officer Wind (who was in training at the time of the beating and, because he lacked tenure with the force, was “dismissed” by soon-to-be-ex-Chief Darryl Gates) decided not to indict the other 19 officers who were present that night, 10 of whom were later “punished” by the department. That’s right—there were 23 officers at the scene. But still, though King was zapped twice with a taser, and suffered several broken facial bones and a broken leg, he was (in the words of the juror) “In full control” on the situation. He also gave “every indication” of being high on PCP, except that none was found in his system.

An acquittal was ensured when the 2nd District Court of Appeals granted a venue change from LA Country to the overwhelmingly rich, white, conservative “police community” of Simi Valley in Ventura County. A “fair” trial is in the eye of the beholder, at the whim of the establishment.

The Court’s instructions to the jury as to how they should narrowly and prejudicially view the video was sufficient to absolve them of all responsibility to humanity and decency. The defense pictured the four cops as “part of the line between society and chaos,” who are protecting US from “the likes of Rodney King.”

What the Court of Law told us, the people, is that 4 (let alone 23) able-bodied supposedly highly trained “peace officers” couldn’t restrain King and were forced to beat him 56 times with nightsticks and to kick him with their feet.

In Powell’s case (he’s the one with the hung jury), his lawyer argued as follows: “You don’t see an example of uncontrolled police brutality [on the video]. You see a controlled application of baton strikes for the very obvious reason of getting this man into custody.”

Sergeant Koon’s lawyer was quoted as saying, “A little pain is a great incentive.”

And, as stated by the defense in reference to the frames of the tape which show Officer Brisneo (the cop who testified, to some degree, against his fellow Officers) with his foot pressing on the back of King’s neck, while the others continue their assault: “much as it might appear otherwise, Brisneo isn’t really attacking King. He’s keeping him down for his own good.”

Brisneo testified that he was afraid his “exhausted” accomplices would shoot King for refusing to comply with the Officer’s instructions. His lawyer told the jury that Brisneo may have saved King’s life.


“We’d rather pay for riot squads then pump the ghetto back to life. We let your schools decay on purpose to build a great wall around our power.” –Dead Kennedys, Bedtime for Democracy.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” –Mahatma Gandhi

The long-suffering people of South Central LA, and indeed, all of us who are sickened by the economic deprivation and authoritarian oppression which leads, inevitably, to rebellion, watched, incredulous and helpless as the justice system told us to eat shit. The nonsense delivered as testimony to an already dubious jury made it quite clear which verdict was to be rendered. I’m surprised most by the hung jury in Powell’s case.

Though the acquittal was contrived and it was well-known that an acquittal would produce large-scale protests and rioting (as stated by Chief Gates), police commanders, allegedly “worried about overtime” relieved 1,000 police officers of duty about an hour before the jury rendered its decision. Gates, himself, was at a fundraiser aimed at blocking police reform initiative when the riots broke out and could not be reached until 9 pm.

At the courthouse, in rich Simi Valley, as protesters demonstrated indignant, vehement opposition to the verdict, police presence was strong.

In South Central LA, however, it was nonexistent. Protesters trashed City Hall and Police Headquarters, and meeting no opposition downtown erupted into the orgy of looting and arson and general displays of dissatisfaction with the status quo that was so widely publicized on TV. Affluent areas were left almost unscathed. The authorities did everything they could to encourage rioting in SCLA, not even ordering mobilization of the cops until 7:30 PM that night, a full 2 hours after the riot began.

Why would the police encourage rioting? After the Watts riots of the ‘60s, research (by the Kerner Commission) stated that economic and educational factors, rather than race are, ultimately, the cause of “race riots.” Our leaders know what causes riots, but are unwilling (as they’ve demonstrated most vividly) to undertake the sweeping changes described by the Kerner Commission, as well as countless other studies, as necessary to eliminate racial divisiveness and economic stratification. Perpetuating poverty and inadequate education among the masses is how our leaders retain dominance; police brutality, overflowing prisons, rampant crime and rioting as status quo. 

It comes down to this: The rich and powerful have no intention of treating those less well-connected with any compassion or humanitarianism because they like things just the way they are. Republican political strategists agree that, at least as a campaign issue this Fall, calls for law and order, fueled by racial fears invigorated by the riot, will be more potent than liberal demands for social justice and egalitarianism. 

And yet Bush, our regal plutocrat who graduated from Yale and doesn’t seem to know that an acquittal cannot be appealed, comes on the TV and acts astounded that a group of (minority) people could be so devoid of commitment to the American dream and that they would riot and loot and burn buildings. The rioters were merely expressing themselves by the only means available to them, the only form of communication that seems to attract the attention of the rich, learned masters. Their message gives us an equal chance, treat us like human beings with dignity and give us a decent neighborhood—this one you’ve trapped us in isn’t worth saving.

The oppressed are restless. Isn’t it time we started caring about each other on this crowded, little planet of ours? I asked a few people, at random, what they thought about the overall situation in LA. 

“To eliminate poverty and ignorance is to eliminate racism and hatred,” was what a distinguished businessman and elder in the LDS Church had to say, who wishes to remain anonymous.

A Prominent (publicly elected) law enforcement official working with the Attorney General’s Office said, “I think we should take care of the masses of disgruntled citizens in LA, and indeed in all of our urban refugee camps. First, attack with rockets and bombs, then move in with tanks and infantry supported by Apache helicopters to mop up resistance…” and on and on. 

An employee of a certain Cineplex Odeon Theater, who also happens to be publisher/editor of the free, environmentally-safe newsletter Green And Peaceful Times, as well as founder, president, prophet and sole member of WPBNT (World Peace By Next Tuesday), in addition to being a staunch supporter of waste management, public fuckings and nomadic collectivism, spoke thusly: ”We can all, working together, change the world in a day—we just have to decide on the same day.”

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
A Subjective History of Punk Rock
Hate X9 – “An American Band”