The Beating of Rodney King Essay
The Beating of Rodney King
Most people have heard about the case and seen the video of the brutal beating that took place in Los Angeles on the night of March 2, 1991. The video shown to the public contained officers appearing to beat Mr. King while he is on the ground while other officers appeared to be “Observing the beating”? and doing nothing to stop it. After an initial view of the footage it is very easy to jump to conclusions that the beating was simply an act of unnecessary police brutality and that Mr.
King was just an innocent African-American man being subjected to racism and brutality by white police. There is no question that the force used by the officers in this case may have been excessive but what preceded the event must come into consideration when looking at the ethical issue of the officers conduct. On the night of March 2, 1991, King was driving on Foothill Freeway when at around 12:30 am when a husband and wife team of the California Highway Patrol, spotted King’s Hyundai behind them at a very high speed.
The Singers than began to pursue King with their lights flashing but King did not respond and exited the highway forcing the highway patrol, along with other officers and a helicopter, on a high speed chase that lead to speeds up to 117 mph. Eventually King’s vehicle was cornered and he surrendered although displaying bizarre behavior such as “smiling” and “waving his hands”. Officer Singer yelled for King to get on the ground which he complied with. King then appeared to reach for a weapon (he was actually unarmed) which prompted Singer to draw her weapon and point it towards King.
Sergeant Koon ordered the officer to holster her weapon and draw her baton, which is what every officer did on the scene. Koon stated later that this was done to prevent King from being killed. Officers began to suspect King as being “dusted”, a slang term meaning under the influence of PCP, a dissociative drug that is described by police as their worst nightmare due to effects from the drug that seem to make individuals unaffected by pain. After King was on the ground the Sergeant ordered the officers to swarm King in order to cuff him.
Being 6’3 in height and what officers called “Buffed Out” King was somehow able to “throw an officer off” and get to his feet. Stunned by this officers than reacted by hitting King twice with a taser gun which temporarily subdued him but was somehow still able to get up to his feet. At this point the sergeant ordered the officers to subdue King with batons. The three officers involved in the actual beating were officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno. The other Officers on scene just stood by as specters during the brutal beating.
King was hit about 50 times with batons including two blows to the head and “stomps” to his shoulder delivered by officer Briseno. The film released to the public on this assault was recorded by a local resident by the name of George Holliday. What many people failed to realize is that there were many different aspects of this beating and many preceding events that lead to this assault that were not caught on camera. Although the force was excessive, police officers have a duty (Immanuel Kant) to protect the public and themselves.
The three officers were acting on an original order from their superior, Sergeant Koon, who proceeded to stand by and allow his officers to continue the beating even when it seemed King had been subdued. According to the deontological theory that Kant created the officers could try and justify their actions by claiming it was their duty. If anyone is to claim this type of defense they must consider if they would will someone else to do the same to you “Do onto others only as you would have them do onto you”.
Being officers of the law it is their job to follow orders from superiors, this is how police organizations operate all over the country. Without a structured hierarchy officers would have leeway to do whatever they please which would likely cause chaos. Despite this it must be analyzed at to what degree was the assault, if it was blatantly too harsh then the officers could not use a “just following orders” defense as this has already been established through the Nuremberg trials.
Although these trials were for a much more severe crimes they set a precedent that this could not be used as a defense if the crime is too Hyannis. The Nuremberg defense was most famously used by one of the Nazis during the trials in Israel during 1961, this man was Adolph Eichmann. He was famously quoted in this statement: “I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty. . . . It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. . . Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of war service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office, and in addition, once the war started, there was also martial law. . . . I did not persecute Jews with avidity and passion. That is what the government did. . . . At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate. ” –Adolph Eichmann, 1961 After the incident Mr.
King was released without charges and on March 7, Chief Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department announced that four officers would be prosecuted including Powell, Briseno, Wind, and Sergeant Koon. George Holliday, the citizen with the recorded video originally tried to give it to the police station but was turned away. He then decided to turn it over to a Los Angeles television station by the name of KTLA. It was immediately played on the evening news and was picked up by CNN the very next day. The video was played constantly in the weeks to come and according to CNN vice president Ed Turner “television used the tape like wallpaper”.
As more citizens viewed the video outrage began to spread all around the country. According to the public “92% of those polled believed that excessive force was used against Rodney King” The event had turned into a media field day in which most people wanted to see justice served and nothing less. When trial proceedings went under way it became apparent that jury selection for a case like this would be crucial. Attorneys for the four officers argued to the judge that the media had spun the case out of control and a change of venue was needed to avoid a biased jury.
To the prosecutions disgust the request was granted as the trial was to move Simi Valley, a predominantly white city set in the hills of Ventura County. Chief Deputy of the special Investigations Division the district attorney’s office, Roger Gunson, said later about hearing the news: “I have never Been so Horrified in my life” As the jury was selected the pool of citizens were very low in African Americans with only about half dozen and majority of them showing no interest in being involved with the case.
The trial began on March 5, 1992 as District Attorney White played the entire videotape of the beating. As the trial played out the defense basically tried to justify the beating by saying it was King’s fault. They claimed that the amount of force was necessary due to the fact that King would not stay on the ground as seen from a quote from officer Powell: “I was completely in fear of my life, scared to death that if this guy got back up, he was going to take my gun away from me”.
The prosecution then brought evidence forward that gave the impression that race was involved in this beating when messages were brought forth between Powell and Koon where he joked about the situation after the incident by saying “Gorillas in the Mist” Prosecutor Terry White brought this into play during a famous cross-examination: White: Now this call that involved these African Americans, was it in a jungle? Powell: In a what? White: A jungle? Powell: No. White: Was it at the zoo? Powell: No. White: Were there any gorillas around?
Powell: I didn’t see any. Powell’s response to this was that he was “just following orders” which was followed by White snapping back “everyone was responsible for their own actions out there”. After the prosecution and the defense came to rest the jury went into deliberation for seven excruciating days. The media had not prepared the public for what they were about to here as the clerk announced the jury’s verdict at 3:15 P. M. on April 29, 1992. Officers Wind, Briseno, and Koon were acquitted and a decision could not be made about Powell.
It only took about an hour for the famous Los Angeles Riots of 1992 to begin as disaster swept through the African-American sections of the city. When it was finally calmed by military and police five days later there were fifty-four people dead and about a billion dollars in damages. This riot was one of the worst riots in American History and could have been avoided. When looking at this case in terms of Utilitarianism, a concept coined by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries it seems that everyone would have been better off if the officers were convicted.
In Utilitarianism the most important thing is the “greatest good for the greatest number” which would mean to avoid the riots; punishment had to be dealt to the officers in question (even if the punishment was minimal). This point is made in Justice, Crime, and Ethics book in the following passage: The Entire criminal justice system can be justified on utilitarian grounds. Why do we need police force? To serve and protect. That is to say, it is in the long term interests of society to pay police officers to protect the community from burglars, murderers, rapists, and drunk drivers.
The utilitarian would argue that what we call criminal activities tend to produce much more pain than pleasure. Therefore, a criminal justice system is instituted in order to lower the amount of crime, thereby lowering the amount of pain produced by crime. When analyzing this statement it is obvious that regardless of the reasons behind the beating and the acquittal of the officers this was not the greatest good for the greatest number for it caused outrage all over the country and landed Mr.
King in the hospital with multiple broken bones. When you look at this case and all the details that were involved with it there are many different aspects to what exactly happened. It must be mentioned that despite the public outcry for retribution from the officers, this country was still able to give the four officers a fair trial. Like seen in the Nuremburg Trials, instead of just going directly for punishment like the public wanted, this country proved once again that everyone deserves a fair trial, regardless of the crime.
The media coverage in this case is much to blame for the riots that occurred as they did not give the public all the details of the case and most people had only seen the video of the actual beating of King and not read any specific details at what happened prior to the assault. In terms of the verdicts it seemed that it would have been beneficial for the public as a whole if the officers were found guilty and punished in a utilitarianism point of view.
In the jury’s eyes it seems if they agreed with the defense of the officers in which they claimed the force was necessary which falls under the deontology theory that is was their duty. In the end President Bush and the Attorney General William Burr began preparing to bring federal charges against all four officers involved in the case while the riots were happening. In a federal trial officers Koon and Powell were found guilty and sentenced to short jail sentences which was obviously too little too late.
It seemed the government had discovered the hard way that justice needed to be served to these officers for the sake of the public. This case is a perfect example of how the media can spin news stories completely out of control. When looking at all the facts there is no doubt that the use of force from the officers was excessive but everyone should be informed of the events actually led up to the assault before they jump to conclusions. This case is also another prime example of “just following orders” does not justify unethical behavior as seen with the guilty verdicts in the federal trial.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 May 2018
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