For as long as Lora King could remember, she had to share her father with the world.
Everywhere Rodney King went, people swarmed him for autographs or asked to take pictures
“You don’t have to talk to them,” Lora told her dad once when he was confronted in his SUV. “Just roll the window up.”
But it was hard to roll the window up on King’s notoriety, which was based on one of the most searing images in Los Angeles history.
Twenty five years ago this week Rodney King became the public face of police brutality when his beating by three baton-wielding LAPD officers was broadcast in living rooms across America.
The videotape of the beating transformed the unemployed construction worker into a symbol.
To some, he was a criminal who deserved the beating that he got. To others, King was a “black everyman” who epitomised the brutality that police visited on the African-American community.
Who he was as a flesh-and-blood human being almost didn’t matter — unless you were his child.
“Rodney King as an individual was never really the point,” said Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. “People were angry for him and identify with him, but with that they are uplifting their own brutality stories. People rose up not for Rodney King. It was more than him. It was us seeing ourselves in him.”
Kerman Maddox, a public affairs consultant who launched a recall effort against then LAPD Chief Daryl Gates after the beating, said that at best King “became a figure that people felt sorry for.”
“He was not a person like Rosa Parks. … She was the perfect symbol for the civil rights movement,” he said. “Rodney King was not without flaws. He just happened to be the right guy at the wrong time and wrong place — a perfect symbol to highlight the issue of police brutality.”
Lora King was 7-year-old on March 3, 1991, when her dad, on parole and drunk, was famously beaten in Lakeview Terrace.
Days later, King limped toward his daughter. His face was still swollen. One eye was protruding out of its socket. He talked from the side of his mouth like Popeye.
“I was terrified,” she recalled. “He looked like a monster, but he had a big smile on his face like it was no big deal.”
Lora had seen George Holliday’s grainy video of baton blows raining down on her father on the evening news. I’m fine, King told her.
Many years would go by before father and daughter truly reckoned with the emotional scars left by the beating.
“I purposely never brought it up because I always felt that he couldn’t escape it,” said Lora, 32, an administrative assistant at a Glendale accounting firm. “I tried to stay in a happy place.”
In the years after the beating, King continued to have troubles with the law. In 1993, he crashed into a wall while driving drunk. Two years later, he served 90 days in jail after being charged with a hit-and-run for knocking his wife down with his car. He got hooked on PCP.
Lora saw a broken man who carried the guilt for the lives lost during the rioting that broke out after a jury in Simi Valley cleared the LAPD officers charged in his beating.
Holliday, a neighbor rousted from sleep by the whir of helicopters overhead, captured the scene.
Four officers faced trial. A jury with no black people on it acquitted all of them on April 29, 1992. Anger spilled out into the streets, and protesters set fire to entire blocks, stormed police headquarters and looted businesses.
There were 54 riot-related deaths and nearly US$1 billion in property damage.
In the mayhem, Rodney King made an emotional plea before television cameras: “Can we all get along? Can we get along?”
On Father’s Day in 2012, June 17, Rodney King was found dead at the bottom of his backyard pool in Rialto. He was 47.
“There are a lot of positive and negative that come with the ring of my dad’s name,” Lora said.
She said she feels blessed that her daughter got to know her grandfather “at his core before the world told her who they think he was.”