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October 24, 2013

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1991. It was more than just two decades ago; it was a lifetime ago. 

I simply can’t think of a way to properly express how literally I mean that, because, well…I wasn’t a cop then. Ask any cop you know who’s been on the job for five years or more and they won’t admit it, but they don’t really know who they used to be either, before the Job. 1991 though—I do remember that year before “the life”. 

I was still an asshole of course, but I was a different kind of asshole. Out of high school and going through the motions of college, but not really sure which road I was going to take. And when I saw the events of March 2, 1991 broadcast on a shitty handheld camcorder, I vividly remember those moments as clearly as I do Reagan getting shot, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and September 11, 2001. It changed my Generation X (and therefore our country) forever.

At that time in my life, it showed me that the Good Guys weren’t always Good. Right and Wrong didn’t have such a clear delineator, and it served as one of the first real fissures in my then-idealistic perception of the world. How could this happen in a “just society?” It was absolutely not a factor in it, but I was a cop a few short years later. Go figure.

On that night, Rodney King was a convicted felon on parole driving with an estimated .19 BAC on the Foothill Freeway in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles with two passengers onboard. 

Observed speeding by the California Highway Patrol, he refused to stop and a chase ensued. He exited the freeway and the chase continued through residential streets at speeds allegedly ranging from 55 to 80 mph. When he was finally cornered and stopped, his passengers responded to police orders to stop and lie down after the chase. King chose not to, waved at a helicopter, grabbed his pockets (where weapons are undisputedly ordinarily kept), then proceeded to throw the cops off him who tried to take him into custody and the ensuing legendary ass-whipping needs no further description. 

These are the actions of a bad guy, folks. And it is THIS ass-beating that took all of the facts above, shit-canned them…and made Rodney “the victim”.

Did that ass-beating go on too long? Yup. Did he ask for it by his refusal to do anything his companions had the sense to do, and the cops had the legal right to order him to do after his life-threatening behavior? Yup. But rather than focus on his bad behavior that night and his nights before, the five cops were the bad guys because they stepped over the line. And the result? 

The acquittal of those cops resulted in 1,600 buildings being destroyed, nearly 2,400 people being injured, and 53 people being murdered...22 of which murders have never been solved. But it’s OK, because it wasn’t their fault. They had to riot and destroy their own neighborhoods and kill their own neighbors, because they were now victims, too. For you supporters out there, this is on your resume, too, you know. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Now? Many, many years later, I learned something else: There were a few minutes of video before that savage beating that weren’t shown. It didn’t make that beating right, but it sure altered the nation’s perception and L.A.’s bloody reactions to the trial a year later. There is always more to the story.

Rodney King squandered his portion of the $3.8 million dollar lawsuit award, never beat the drugs and booze that he earned it with, became a “reality television star”, and was finally found dead in the bottom of a pool on June 17, 2012…the 54th victim of his own acquittal-inspired riots from George Holliday’s fateful camcorder video.

A reckless criminal, a victim…an icon. Defend him or revile him, he made an impact on this country not unlike an asteroid. 

And more than 22 years later, what’s the difference between the kid I was then and the man I am now? I now realize the irony that as a cop, I’m on the side of those trying to help us “all get along”, unlike the good reverends that made a living off of doing the opposite. How sad.

May you rest in the peace that you never found in life, Mr. King. For good or ill, you will literally never be forgotten.

When officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alexteach

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