Citrus Valley High School

Redlands teachers recall memories from the Rodney King video 30 years later

Originally published in La Plaza Press

By MIA ARANDA

30 years ago today, KTLA aired a candid video of a Black man, named Rodney King, being brutally beat by four Los Angeles police officers. This eye opening video proved to Americans that racism remained persistent in this country as a year later it yielded a not guilty verdict on the charge of assault prompting the eruption of riots into the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding cities. 

Redlands teachers Duan Kellum, Jamie Ochoa and Kendra Taylor-Watson look back on experiences on how the Rodney King video affected themselves and society.

Redlands East Valley teacher Duan Kellum was a senior at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles in 1991 when he witnessed the Rodney King video on the news. 

“My roommates and I saw the video on the news and we were not shocked by the beating,” said Kellum. “We were surprised that it was caught on film. ‘Finally’ we all said.”

The video of Rodney King was recorded from across the street by a neighbor named George Holliday. Holliday recently bought a Sony video camera about a month before, and after being awoken from the commotion in the middle of the night, recorded the beating from his apartment balcony following the high speed chase between King and the police. Later, Holliday sent the video to local news station, KTLA, who aired it on March 4. 

LA Police Chief Daryl Gates announced on March 7 that the officers involved, Laurence Powell, Stacey Koon, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno, would be prosecuted. The video was viewed by the grand jury which indicted the four officers within a week of Gates’ announcement.

The video also became monumental in highlighting the magnitude of police brutality against African Americans in the United States, as before then, ample acts of discrimination and racism weren’t readily exposed to the public compared to today’s access to modern technology and social media platforms. 

Over a year after the initial release of the video, Powell, Koon, Wind and Briseno were acquitted of charges of using excessive force on April 29, 1992. This provoked an outburst of riots in the LA area between April and May, known as the 1992 LA Riots. Resentment against the jury’s verdict fueled rioters to engage in looting, arson, and assault in local communities. 

Redlands High School teacher Jamie Ochoa had moved back to California from the Philippines in 1991 to discover the well-known video of Rodney King that was being displayed on various news channels. As an 11-year-old, she couldn’t quite understand the severity of the event. 

“There was chaos happening near me, tension, but I was so young, I could not understand,” Ochoa said. “It seemed cruel and unusual, hateful and filled with anger. My 10-year-old heart couldn’t take it.” 

“It was an odd feeling, seeing this violence happen on TV–real people, not actors–and it did not make sense,” said Ochoa. 

Citrus Valley High School teacher Kendra Taylor-Watson was living in Crenshaw in South LA when the riots transpired. 

Taylor-Watson was able to first-hand witness the severity and impact of looting and the riots in Crenshaw. 

“People were running with TV’s, couches, some even had food. I later saw others taking chairs and heavy metal equipment to break windows of local business. Glass shattering and mobs of people rushing into clothing stores, furniture stores, shoe stores you name it and it had been broken into,” said Taylor-Watson. “All up and down Crenshaw Blvd. Cars were pulled on the side of the road while the looters packed their cars with stolen items.”

LA Mayor Tom Bradley declared a state of emergency and about 4,000 national troops were sent to Los Angeles to help quell the riots. 

Altogether, the riots lasted approximately one week. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the riots yielded 775 million dollars in insured losses, about 1.4 billion dollars today. 

Taylor-Watson said, “The elderly especially suffered because they had to travel further to a grocery store, bank and other significant establishments that people take for granted until they are gone.”

The riots also intensified tensions between African Americans and Korean Americans in LA, as shortly after the Rodney King video, 15-year-old African American Latasha Harlins was shot by Korean American store owner Soon Ja Du on March, 16, 1991. Du had mistook Harlins for attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice leading to Du killing her on the spot. 

According to the United States Department of Justice, Community Relations Services collaborated with law enforcement and African American, Korean American and Latino leaders to curtail racial tensions as well as to cease violence and destruction in the city during the riots. 

Taylor-Watson said, “The community was forever changed after the not guilty verdict of the policemen that beat Rodney King.”

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