george holliday

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Television screens across the world broadcast the videotaped footage of LAPD officers raining down 56 baton blows on an African American named Rodney King. Two weeks later, viewers watched another act of sickening violence when a Korean grocer shot and killed an unarmed 15-year-old black girl named Latasha Harlins after an altercation over a bottle of juice. In October, the grocer was convicted of manslaughter and served no jail time. Finally, on April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley, one of the whitest exurbs of Los Angeles, acquitted three of the four officers involved in beating Rodney King. The response in South Los Angeles was loud and immediate: That night, thousands of residents, black and Latino, took to the streets, starting a four-day riot that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, injured 2,500 people, killed 58, and resulted in $1 billion in damage and 16,000 arrests.

It’s Been 25 Years Since Rodney King’s Brutal Beating By The LAPD.

This is what made hip-hop particularly valuable in 1991. Hip-hop talked about what you saw. It was the medium that bridged the gap between televised, mediated image and lived reality. Hip-hop today is a nexus of media trends. In 1991, it was where 19-year-old MCs became national spokespersons, embedded journalists in America’s war with itself. Straight Outta Compton was an accurate presentation of the horror, bloodshed, and slow-mo degeneration that was enveloping neighborhoods and families like a vast creeping fog, suffocating all attempts at a normal life.

Twenty-five years ago this week, the rest of the world found out. George Holliday’s video tape of Rodney King’s brutal beating by the LAPD was broadcast on KTLA.

Video still taken from George Holliday in Lake View Terrace of the Rodney King beating, Los Angeles, CA, 1991

Shortly after midnight on March 3, 1991, George Holliday awoke to the sounds of police sirens and helicopters outside his apartment. He grabbed his Sony Handycam and began filming.

His nine minutes of grainy footage ignited furious charges of racial injustice. He received $500 from KTLA-TV Channel 5 for rights to broadcast the tape. He owns a copy — the original remains in federal archives.

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Twenty-five years ago on Thursday, a black motorist named Rodney King was pulled over by Los Angeles police officers in the suburb of Lake View Terrace.

It was 12:40 a.m. While a bystander named George Holliday recorded the stop on video, four of the officers ordered King and his two passengers out of their car and assaulted the 25-year-old with batons and stun guns, fracturing his skull, breaking one of his ankles and leaving bruises all over his body.

Holliday sold the tape to a local TV station for $500, and the rest is history. Despite nine minutes of overwhelming video evidence, all four officers — three of whom were white, one of whom was Latino — were acquitted of wrongdoing the following year. The verdict caused years of tension between black Angelenos and the Los Angeles Police Department to erupt, culminating in the 1992 L.A. Riots — one of the deadliest and most costly urban uprisings of the 20th century.

Rodney King’s assault is still shaping black activism 25 years later