Wave Staff and Wire Reports
LOS ANGELES — It happened 30 years ago when George Holliday was awakened by a commotion outside his Lake View Terrace apartment.
The commotion was so loud that Holliday grabbed his new video camera and walked out to his balcony to see what the noise was about.
With a hovering Los Angeles Police Department helicopter’s spotlight providing the illumination, the scene Holliday captured with his Sony Handycam changed history.
It was March 3, 1991, and through the lens of his camera, Holliday recorded four white Los Angeles police officers using batons, Tasers, feet and fists to beat a Black man later identified as Rodney King, whose name quickly became globally synonymous with police brutality.
King, an unemployed construction worker who had been drinking and was on probation for a robbery conviction, was instructed to pull over for speeding on a Los Angeles freeway. Instead he drove away. He eventually stopped his car in front of Holliday’s apartment building, where Los Angeles police took charge of the traffic stop that devolved into a violent confrontation as officers trying to subdue King pounded on him repeatedly, as others looked on.
King was left with skull fractures, broken bones and teeth and permanent brain damage.
Thirty years later, King’s daughter, Lora King, marked the anniversary of her father’s beating by feeding 500 low-income families at the Imperial Courts Housing Project in Watts. Her mother, Denetta King, Rodney King’s first wife, attended the event, which was moved indoors because of rain.
Lora King — who was 7 years old when her father was beaten, and 8 when the 1992 urban unrest that started after the four white LAPD officers were acquitted of all charges in Rodney King’s beating — created the Rodney King Foundation in 2016 in memory of her father who died in 2012.
The foundation sponsored the March 3 event. Lora King also started the “I Am A King” scholarship in 2019 to celebrate black fathers.
After her father was beaten, Holliday, who recorded the beating just after midnight, contacted KTLA5. The station became the first to air the footage that would be seen across the globe, becoming what would today be considered a viral video.
The video led to upheaval within the Los Angeles Police Department, sparking calls for the ouster of then-Chief Daryl Gates and prompting the appointment of the Christopher Commission to examine the inner workings of the LAPD and allegations of excessive force and institutional racism.
When the four officers involved in the King beating were acquitted a year later of excessive use of force by a jury in Ventura County, five days of rioting ensued in Los Angeles, resulting in 54 deaths, some 2,400 injuries, scores of destroyed buildings and other property damage, and more than 12,000 arrests.
The acquitted police officers were later convicted of violating Rodney King’s civil rights in a federal court trial.
King, a Sacramento native, died in Rialto on June 17, 2012, of what was described as an accidental drowning. He was 47. Before his death, he authored “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.”
The grainy footage Holliday shot that night made the then-31-year-old plumber a pioneer of citizen journalism. The Sony video camera used to record the episode went up for auction last July, with bidding starting at $225,000, but it was unclear if it was ever sold.
Holliday told the New York Times last year that he still works as a plumber, never profiting from the video, which was still in the possession of federal authorities.
He told the paper he had purchased the video camera about a month before the King beating, and he grabbed it instinctively when he and his wife were awakened by the police ruckus outside his window.
“You know how it is when you have a new piece of technology,” he told the paper. “You film anything and everything.”