May 14, 2022
How the beating of Rodney King changed reporting of police brutality
Livia Gershon explored the first stories about Rodney King and his brutal assault by a group of LAPD officers, and how the focus shifted from racial injustice to “political feuding among city leaders”:
When the trial began, the papers reported on the defendants’ legal strategies. While the Post referred to the “chilling tape” of the defendants “savagely beating” King, the Times downplayed King’s injuries. Both mentioned the decision to move the trial to “a conservative, overwhelmingly white area,” as the Times put it, but neither paper paid close attention to the defense tactic of breaking the video down frame by frame.
Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, a Times reporter took part in a ride-along with an LAPD officer, reporting on the difficult situations officers dealt with on the job. The Times also interviewed members of the public in local Black and white communities, reporting that everyone agreed the police should be punished for their actions.
Unlike when the assault on King first took place, there was little focus on the broader issue of societal racism and the role of the police in Black communities. [William L.] Solomon notes that neither paper analyzed the way the defense drew on racist tropes to present King as “at once all-powerful, animalistic, dazed by drugs, and insensate to pain.”
(via JSTOR Daily)