It’s shocking to learn that anyone has died at the age of 47, but truth be told, in some cases it’s not quite as shocking as in others. Rodney King’s death was surprising, but not entirely so.
It often seemed as though King had been arrested or otherwise contacted by most police officers in Southern California, but this was an experience that escaped me. I knew him only from press reports and interviews, some of these coming recently on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots that most commonly bear his name.
King’s life was not one to be emulated, and he is neither a hero nor a martyr for the cause of civil rights despite the efforts by some to fashion him into one. Some of the press coverage of his death has bordered on the comically hagiographic, with perhaps the most glaring example I came across appearing in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “King explained,” wrote Times writer Kurt Streeter, “how as boots and batons fell, as electricity from Tasers ripped through his body, he thought of what it was like for African slaves to withstanding [sic] whippings. The thought of what they went through helped him stay alive.”
I doubt it.
At the time of his infamous arrest in 1991, King was on parole after an armed robbery conviction, this stemming from a 1989 incident in which he threatened a Korean store owner with an iron bar and struck him with a pole. A violent crime, to be sure, but on the depravity scale it scarcely budged the needle.
Rodney King was not a hardened criminal, but rather a man who lacked sufficient restraint on his appetites, the result of which was a string of arrests for relatively minor offenses like drunk driving and domestic violence. And though the Los Angeles County coroner has yet to disclose the results of King’s autopsy, it will surprise few when it is revealed – as it surely will be – that he was intoxicated on one or more substances when he drowned in his backyard pool. As is the case with most people, he lived and apparently died with the consequences of his own decisions.
In God’s mercy, may he find the peace in the next life that eluded him in this one. R.I.P.