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.
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.