On Apr. 29, 1992, rioting erupted throughout the City of Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four police officers of assault and excessive use of force in the beating of a motorist named Rodney King.
The riots were sparked by the perception of racism and injustice – three of the exonerated officers were white, and there was a graphic videotape of the beating that was repeatedly played on newscasts.
Twenty years later, the Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News have weighed in on the anniversary. What does it mean? Have we made advancements as a country? What about the recent Trayvon Martin killing?
As to Rodney King, I was a high school junior at the time, years before having my own RI personal injury practice. But I can still recall the violent video, raw emotions, and feelings of injuctice. Despite the initial acquittal, there are at least three noteworthy points from King that may cause optimism and restore your feelings of achieving justice:
- The initial jury verdict exonerated the officers on state charges only, concluding that the prosecution failed to prove their case to the criminal law standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
- Two years later, the federal government brought federal civil right charges and a federal jury found two officers guilty in a trial that focused on the officers’ training and use of force.
- The civil justice system protects our constitutional rights against the government. As a RI personal injury lawyer, I remind citizens of our 7th Amendment right to trial by jury in civil cases and our right to bring such cases against the government. The lower burden of proof and ability to subpoena documents, take depositions, and otherwise investigate such cases can lead to the truth. King’s civil rights suit resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement against the City of Los Angeles and also led to systematic change in their police department.
Few of us question that racism and evil remain present in our society. It does, however, give me hope, knowing that justice, while it takes time, can be achieved. The Rodney King anniversary also serves as a reminder to stand guard against injustice and to try to prevent such incidents from occurring in our Rhode Island communities.