Today's the 20th anniversary of L.A.'s infamous brush with rock bottom: The 1991 brutal police beating of Rodney King, an act of unabashed racism by four white LAPD officers whose 1992 “not guilty” verdicts gave way to the L.A. riots.
As the smoke cleared, 55 people had been killed, 2,000 injured and about $1 billion in damage had devastated the South Central area and beyond.
But some good did come of the tragedy: King won a $3.8 million lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. On a larger scale, his case set a new standard for police behavior in America. And none of it would have been possible without the following bystander video, a miracle at the time:
The video serves as cold, hard, indisputable proof of the flagrant injustice King was dealt in response to a simple traffic infraction that night. No jury could turn a blind eye with this grainy black-and-white proof of all proofs staring them in the face.
In honor of King's ordeal and the new age of police accountability it inspired, here are 5 more violent California cops caught on video, in order of occurrence.
5. Los Angeles gangster William Cardenas took a barrage of fists to the face in this 2006 tape. Though a Superior Court judge later found the cops' actions to be justified, as Cardenas was resisting arrest, the footage sparked an FBI probe and truly marked the beginning of the police brutality on YouTube era.
4. Perhaps the most outrageous next to Rodney King, the San Francisco police shooting of Oscar Grant — a young black man who did not appear to be fighting back — occurred in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009. Grant famously exclaimed “You shot me!” as the crowd scattered in the subway station around him. In the end, BART officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and only given two years in prison.
3. The video of Anastasio Hernandez' June 2010 death is grainy and obstructed; his dying moans, however, are crystal clear. U.S. Border Patrol agents on the California-Mexico line tased the undocumented immigrant to death after intercepting his attempt to cross over. Hernandez' death was ruled a homicide, but the investigation is ongoing.
2. On May 28, 2010, L.A. Critical Mass rider Manuel Gallegos was participating in a hundreds-strong BP oil protest at Hollywood and Highland when he claims police kicked a fellow rider off his bike. So, like a good 21st century witness, Gallegos took out his cell and starting taping. His lawsuit, currently in court, alleges officers came at him, knocked him down and tried to stomp his phone out of commission. See for yourself:
1. 18-year-old Jeremy Marks spent six months in prison for “attempted lynching” before he could get a re-trial — largely based on this May 2010 cell-phone video, shot by a peer. As an officer from the Los Angeles School Police Department physically restrains another student, Marks (in the back, with a gray shirt on) is alleged to have encouraged the kid to fight back. But that hardly seems the case:
So here's to keeping our cops in check, and to the man who started it all: Rodney King.
And, to equal credit, the techonologically advanced bystander: George Holliday. Just imagine if he'd had 5 megapixels.