25 Years Ago, Rodney King Beating Ushered in Era of Police Videos

King died at age 47 after drowning in his backyard pool in Rialto on June 17

Twenty-five years ago, on the cusp of the home video era, a drunk and speeding Rodney King led officers on a pursuit that ended in front of George Holliday's Lake View Terrace apartment in northeast LA.

Then living in a unit facing Foothill Boulevard, Holliday heard the commotion outside and got out something few owned in 1991: a home video camera.

What he captured – LAPD officers brutally beating King, who was on parole for armed robbery, on the ground with batons – was broadcast worldwide and became a symbol of police brutality.

Holliday has rarely spoken with the media, an exception being an interview with NBC last year.

"I thought, I should film this," Holliday recalled. "When I went out to the balcony, they were already hitting him."

When four officers charged with felony assault on King were acquitted by a jury with no black members, the verdict sparked a riot that lasted for six days and brought U.S. military presence to patrol LA streets.

"I was just wondering, what had happened? What led to this?" Holliday said.

TV news broadcasts of the video triggered outrage, more when King left custody fractured and bruised in a wheelchair.

"Watching it unfold, it was not so much about Rodney King as about all of us. We've all been in a place that was similar," said Melina Abdullah, a professor and Black Lives Matter organizer.

An appointed commission called for reform.

"I remember watching the first time and wondering what the hell was going on," said current Chief of Police Charlie Beck. "I think it was the beginning of a lot of self-examination."

Training changed, among other things. The baton was shunted aside as the favored tool for getting compliance from a combative suspect to be handcuffed.

During the unrest, which left more than 50 people dead and caused more than $1 billion in property damage, King famously pleaded for peace by asking, "Can we all get along?"

That confrontation on Foothill Blvd illuminated the value of video, though perhaps few envisioned how technology would make it so widely available to the public as today. Police as well have embraced video monitoring in police cars and increasingly on officers themselves.

"Everybody I know is walking around with a camera and that has changed the world and changed expectations," Beck said.

Holliday's video was largely responsible for getting King a nearly $4 million settlement form the city of LA. Holliday recalls King told him it did more than that.

"He said, 'You saved my life,'" Holliday recalled.

King never succeeded in overcoming his addiction issues, and drowned at age 47 in his Rialto home swimming pool four years ago. His death was ruled accidental in an autopsy by the San Bernardino County Coroner's Office, which also noted he had marijuana, cocaine and alcohol in his system.

Even as the King case ushered in the modern era of the video camera watchdog, it also demonstrated that even when it's on video, not everybody sees the same thing.

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