25 years later and the Rodney King video is still on repeat

Twenty five years ago this month, an Argentinian man living in suburban Los Angeles spotted a person being brutally beaten by police officers near his apartment. The man’s named was George Holliday; the man on the ground was Rodney King; and video footage Holliday took from his balcony (and sent to a local TV station) was aired around the world, becoming the first viral video of police brutality.

video still of police, with man on ground

Video still, March 3, 1991

In a piece published this week, Sandra Bass, Berkeley’s assistant dean of student and director of the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, recalls those events a quarter century ago — and what happened to her in San Francisco, a year later, after an all-white jury acquitted the LAPD officers.

“A few days after the verdict was announced, a flyer advertising a demonstration taking place in San Francisco’s Mission district landed in my hands. I felt compelled to go as both participant and witness, so I grabbed my tape recorder and a willing friend and headed across the Bay Bridge,” Bass recalls. “Within minutes of parking the car we were confronted by a phalanx of police officers indiscriminately arresting everyone. No questions asked, no dispersal order announced.”

Bass spent more than 30 hours in police custody; it was later reported that the rally had been a ploy “to lure protesters into one location so they could round them up and jail them,” she says. More then 300 people were detained and jailed, resulting in a class-action lawsuit. “Five and a half years later,” as a result of the suit, “I got a $1,700 check in the mail.”

“What’s on my mind today,” says Bass, is “the 11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, emotional trauma, and too-early death suffered by Rodney King,” and how “normalized” it’s become to see video of black people being subjected to police brutality.

Read Sandra Bass’s call for change on the Berkeley Blog.