On the Death of Rodney King…

Yesterday, Rodney King died. I caught the news as I scanned my Twitter feed and sat, mouth agape, for a long drawn out moments. I thought perhaps that it was a mistake. At least, I hoped so, but as the reports began pouring in from so many sources I could only accept the sad and wrenching truth.

Rodney King, whose name will forever be synonymous with the L.A. Riots of 1991. Rodney King, who I saw on The Ed Show a few, short months ago discussing his forthcoming book, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. I had not seen him for at least 15 years and the sight of him was like a mental punch. He had aged wonderfully, becoming a handsome and striking man. Yet, you could see the scars on his hands and deduce from his speech, both in pattern and cadence, that he’d suffered brain damage and unseen scars from his beating at the hands of the LAPD. Seeing his hurt and how his life had been impacted undid me.

I thought that was bad but yesterday was much worse. Shock gave way to unexpected grief and anger as if someone had torn a band aid off a wound that had never quite healed. The fact that he was 47 years old and way too young is lamentable. What happened to him is so very tragic and unjust that it is hard to articulate my sadness and rage. He could have been my brother. His story brings to mind a long list of African American males, some faceless and some famous, from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. As negative as it seems, I could only think that the LAPD and the forces which empower them murdered a part of him that day and that they are inextricably linked to his early demise.

I missed a teachable moment today when one of my best friend’s asked me why I was so upset about his death.

“I mean it’s sad and all… but that happened like 20 years ago.” That was her well meaning response.

And indeed, I am sure that will be a lot of people’s response. People, notably, who are unaware of his story or who are not Black, is my guess. I gave her a cursory reply because I was tired and didn’t have the heart to have a deep discussion but I realize that was the wrong response.

The honest response would’ve been something like this…

“The reason his death disturbs me so much is because it is emblematic of the racism that is an embedded part of America. African American men are so routinely abused and killed by law enforcement that it’s almost a given. Certainly, in the African American community, we consider it a given.  You think of a few famous cases and I think of all the nameless faces of people I know who have suffered at the hands of the police and the historical trajectory. I think of the way my people have been criminalized and how such beliefs are such an entrenched part of the American belief system that it continues to guide and shape policy, think NY Stop and Frisk, George Zimmerman and Stand Your Ground. I think of all the Black men who have died at the hands of this country, from slavery to the criminal system, and I am devastated anew at what their loss means to the African American community, their families and the loss of human potential.”

I hear Malcolm X in my head when he said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us..”

I see Alice Walker discussing Trayvon Martin, and the grief and rage in her beautiful face as she says “It’s a symptom of our illness. We are a very sick country.” All her life, this fight for justice has raged and it is still not done.

I see Rep. John Lewis and Rev. Al Sharpton discuss their lifelong struggles for equality and justice and I wonder, “Will we ever have justice?”

I feel their pain and am inspired by their strength and I work harder to master unacknowledged fears.

How many more lifetimes before justice is done, racism is the anomaly and my people are truly free? At a very minimum, free of the yoke of institutionalized racism masking itself under the guise of the law.

What she sees as a singular event, I see as causality, as contributory to a long line of injustice. I don’t blame her for her lack of understanding, empathetic though she is. After all, it is not her reality and she has not heard similar stories from the last three generations of her family. She does not walk in my skin.

I cry my tears out, some in ink, and then I brace myself to continue the struggle because someday, I pray, justice will be done.

Peace and blessings to the King family. Pray that Rodney’s spirit is finally at rest.

You can catch up on some great articles about Rodney King and his story in the Daily Beast. “What Rodney King’s Death Symbolized for the Black Community” by James Peterson resonated with me.



14 thoughts on “On the Death of Rodney King…”

  1. Beautifully written, Coco. This is indeed ‘lamentable’. My husband and I were just speaking of the cursory coverage regarding Rodney King’s death, last night. Rodney King is only four years older than my own husband, who happens to go by the same name. The media outlets and written reports almost take an “oh well” approach, as if somehow the tragedy that brought Rodney King to our attention hadn’t happened at all; as if his life is worth far less than that of anyone else. Worse yet, I think that they would like to think that the tragedy itself was some archaic remnant of a long-ago past, given that we are now living in a post-racial era. Really? Yeah right!!! Who knew?!

    These occasions almost make me sick to my stomach, because they constantly remind me that our Black men are vigilantly undervalued and demonized, and especially when they themselves are the victims.

    1. Preach. Post-racial my arse. I defy anyone to look at the current state of affairs and make that statement. I, like many hopeful others, thought that Obama’s election did indicate a time of racial healing. I’ve now had to conclude that it has to some degree further polarized us and certainly brought to light a great deal of hidden racial animus. It is a sad state of affairs….

    1. Hi Sparks,

      Totally understand that. The funny thing is that I keep thinking if I extend my focus outside myself, I’m bound to feel better. Then, I realize that so much madness is going on in the world that I just feel doubly bombarded.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good day.


  2. deeply well written. thank you for inviting us into your personal pain at his passing. the apathy… the conscious willingness to so easily dismiss whether 20 years or 200 years is the mindset that allows for the marginalization of people and events… until “the next one”… the NEXT Rodney or Trayvon or Emmit or Sean Bell or…

    sharing on facebook

    1. Hi Mutuo,

      Thank you. I don’t know what I felt today as I saw many POC, in particular, respond today on Twitter and just how much their responses were similar to mine. Certainly, I wasn’t shocked and I was empathetic but I was also sad at the weight of the collective sadness and shared pain. Pain is only good if it serves as a catalyst to change.



  3. Coco, like you, I was shocked and saddened with the news of Rodney King’s death. I could not believe it. So young…I had heard about his book and thought, finally. Sadly, that was not to be. I feel your pain. As a Latina, I know all too well the ugly side of racism. You’d think that we’d have grown as a nation, that we’d be more accepting of our fellow man. But alas, this continues to be an eternal struggle. I feel that even while King may have passed away, his message and what he symbolizes will stay with us forever. It is a reminder that change is imminent if our country is to thrive. As always, a wonderful and poignant post, lady. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Bella, for feeling me. Yes, still waiting on more change to come. It must be man’s imperfections that require this continual upheaval and fine tuning. I appreciate the compliment as well.

      Have a good one,


  4. There is a part of me that did not realize Rodney King and I were nearly the same age, I always thought he was about 10 years older. It s very sad that a man at his age has died, especially since he seemed to have so much more to say to the world. To me, he will always be a symbol of the worst parts of our society with the unfounded beating and his life before that. What happened to him as a child and on the side of the street that night was wrong.

    1. Hi Rumbly,

      I agree 100% with everything you said. It’s heartbreaking and my only consolation is that he must finally be at peace as he’s also endured physical pain ever since the trauma of that day. That, and the hope that his life will not have been in vain.

      Thanks for commenting.


      P.S. – I also loved the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 🙂

  5. This is a poignant piece about Rodney King and all the racial dynamics in this country that fuels despair, anxiety and
    grief on a consistent basis. Unknown to some and of little consequence for many. Mothers who caution their black sons about things that the majority takes for granted when they operate their cars or shop or just breathe.

    Your passage…”How many more lifetimes before justice is done, racism is the anomaly and my people are truly free? At a very minimum, free of the yoke of institutionalized racism masking itself under the guise of the law.
    What she sees as a singular event, I see as causality, as contributory to a long line of injustice” is simply truth-telling at its best!

    Rev. Sharpton’s statement is also relevant….. “Through all that he had gone through with his beating and personal demons, he was never one to not call for reconciliation and for his people to overcome and forgive.”
    I was always amazed at that as well. I’m still working on forgiveness and I understand clearly what that process is about but when it intrudes in your life on so many levels; it can become a difficult task. He’s on my sidebar as well as the late Erica Kennedy, a young author who left too soon. I along with you and others of like mind will also pray for his eternal rest and that of Erica Kennedy.

    Thanks for this….

    1. Morning Carolyn,

      You’re welcome. I read your response yesterday and it brought me to tears so raw was my emotions. Thank you for sharing Sharpton’s statement with me. It is one of the most important things about Romney, his humility and ability to forgive. It bears remembering and for many of us, myself included, it requires practice.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.



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