Rev. Jesse Jackson says Rodney King 'seemed to be on a high note'
The death of Rodney King, who became an international figure overnight after his beating by police sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, came as the troubled man's life "seemed to be on a high note," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday.
King’s fiancée found him at the bottom of his pool at his home in Rialto early Sunday, police said. Officers pulled him from the pool and began CPR until paramedics arrived and took King to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where King was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.
Preliminary information indicated King drowned and there were no immediate signs of foul play, police said, but an autopsy will be conducted.
King became a symbol for police brutality and the troubled relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and minority residents. He was eventually awarded a $3.8-million settlement, but the money and fame brought him little solace. He had repeated run-ins with the law and, as of April, said he was broke.
"His life seemed to be on a high note," Jackson said of King, whom he had recently interviewed. "Rodney's death creates a great measure of sadness. He had become a fixture in our lives through both the tragedy and triumphs of his life."
But, Jackson said, King was a victim, not a hero.
"Remember the hero, the redemptive actor in this tragedy, was not the victim Rodney King, but George Holliday who filmed the beating and took it public out of an act of conscience," Jackson said.
Awakened by sirens just after midnight on March 3, 1991, Holliday grabbed his video camera and, from the balcony of his Lake View Terrace apartment, captured King's beating by four LAPD officers. The video triggered a media sensation and, after the acquittal of the officers, helped ignite the riots that remain rooted in L.A.'s history.
More than 20 years after King was beaten by the officers, his name remains synonymous with other high-profile police cases.
"The unintended consequences of a tragic beating that befell him illuminated the darkness of racial profiling and an unjust judicial system," Jackson said.
Jackson then referenced the words King uttered at a televised news conference during the height of the 1992 riots.
"Let the burden upon the living be to continue the struggle so that the days of racial injustice will end. Let us answer Rodney's pressing question," Jackson said. "Yes, we all can get along."
— Kate Mather
Photo: Rodney King looks at a picture of himself, hanging in the living room of his home in Rialto and taken on May 1, 1992, the third day of the Los Angeles riots. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times