By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — As the middle daughter of Rodney King, Lora King grew up knowing notoriety.
The founder of the Rodney King Foundation, King was the special guest and inaugural subject Feb. 7 at the USC Charlotta Bass Journalism and Justice Lab for the Voices of a Movement series, a groundbreaking oral history collection titled The Second Draft Project.
The project centers on Black Americans who are connected to pivotal moments in the fight for social justice by inviting them to illuminate, and even correct, history’s often skewed record.
King was in conversation with Allissa V. Richardson, founding director of the Bass Lab. Together they will premiere elements of King’s virtual interview which provides an eye-witness account of the immediate aftermath of her father’s brutal police assault, his impact on the world and how she’s carrying on his legacy.
“My father was the first victim of police brutality to have his assault captured on TV and it impacted the world,” she said. “But half of the things they said about my dad are not true.”
Members of the Justice Lab recorded King for six hours as she unfolded her oral history regarding her father. She painstakingly recounted the traumatic events of March 3, 1991 when four Los Angeles police officers were captured on videotape beating her unarmed father with batons and the impact the incident had on her father, her family and the world.
Amateur video camera buff George Holiday captured his beating on tape from his bedroom balcony and sent the video to local news station KTLA. The video quickly caused a public furor.
Four of the officers who beat King were eventually tried on excessive force charges. Three were acquitted; the jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge for the fourth.
Within hours of the acquittals, thousands of people poured into the streets of South Los Angeles to express their anger and outrage. The 1992 Los Angeles riots resulted in widespread looting, assault and arson. Six days later, 63 people had been killed, 2,383 had been injured, more than 12,000 had been arrested, and estimates of property damage were over $1 billion. King was eventually awarded $3.8 million in damages by the city of Los Angeles.
“My dad was out celebrating,” King said of the night he was beaten. “He had just been hired for a construction job that paid well.”
“Before being stopped by the police, my dad had been drinking and smoking marijuana. Three of his friends were in the car.
“He was driving fast when he noticed that the police cars were behind him. My father was looking for a well lit area to pull over. He knew that [police stops] often happen to African-American males.
“The police wanted to beat my dad,” she added, He said he was scared for his life when they drew guns on him.”
When the beating was over, “My dad had over 50 broken bones,” King recalled. His eye socket was busted, his jawline was fractured.”
The beating left Rodney King with permanent brain damage, his daughter said. It wasn’t the first time he was assaulted by police.
“He said this was normal behavior,” King said. “He knew that there was a possibility if he were pilled over [by police], he would be beaten. … If you’re Black, you understand what it feels like.
“If somebody pulled me over and didn’t tell me why they were pulling me over and then started cussing at me, I’m going to run, too. [Police] automatically assume that African American men and women are ‘on’ something. No, that’s just their adrenaline rush. They’re scared for their lives, so … if you’re being pulled over and you’re not being told what you are being pulled over for, you’re going to be scared.”
Recalling her dad’s personality, King said, “He was slightly goofy, he was very spontaneous. He loved to ski, play baseball and surf. He was good at everything he wanted to do. He loved everybody but at the same time he tried to use his voice to create change and to give people hope.”
King founded the Rodney King Foundation in 2019 to promote social justice locally and worldwide and to provide services for the homeless and young people. Through the foundation, she awards scholarships to outstanding fathers and provides resources and mental health support for the community.
Turning to current events, King was asked if she could foresee a national police reform law being passed.
“I’m hopeful,” she said. “But I feel like every time it’s getting worse. I’m not downplaying what happened to my dad, but to me, it’s getting worse. I don’t condone the riots, but it’s like MLK said, ‘The riots are the language of the unheard.’
“It doesn’t feel good watching your people get slaughtered. I’m hopeful a reform law will be passed, but it’s taking a little bit too long,” she said.
She said her father understood he had become part of history.
During an interview just before he died in 2012, King was acutely aware of how posterity would view him.
“A cop told me, ‘You know what? People are going to know who you are (even) when you’re dead and gone. A hundred years from now, people are still going to be talking about you.’
“It’s scary, but at the same time it’s a blessing,” King once said. “It’s taken years to get used to the situation I’m in in life and the weight it holds. I realize I will always be the poster child for police brutality,” he said, “but I can try to use that as a positive force for healing and restraint.”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.