Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ripple Effect

Yesterday Rodney King passed away. His 15 minutes of fame came back on March 2, 1991. What brings this to mind is the tragedy of the situation. Rodney King was an ordinary man. Like many ordinary people he lived a life that put him in an extraordinary circumstance.  We see this quite often in life. People living their ordinary lives, then faced with a circumstance that they didn’t seem prepared for. Mostly we hear of heroism, these ordinary people pulling strangers out of wrecked cars or burning buildings.

Rodney King did not wake up the morning of March 2nd thinking that this day would be dramatically different than all of the others. He had no idea when events finally played out fifty-three people would lose their lives. Rodney’s part on this was very small. Through his actions, he simply made himself available. ( the same could be said for the police officers involved)

Rodney embraced a life of alcohol and drugs. He was defiant, living for today. He was on a trajectory of failure. He was convicted of armed robbery in 1989, serving one year of a two-year sentence. By the time he hit the lime light in 1991 he was 26 years old, twice divorced and the father of 3 children.  Just prior to his confrontation with police, his alcohol level was two times the allowable limit. Had this moment in his life not happened, we would have still read about him in the papers. We just wouldn’t have noticed.

On that March day, Los Angeles police overreacted to a simple situation they had been through many times. Their actions propelled Rodney into the lime light and a new trajectory. One that he was not prepared for and more than like would have liked to avoid. Rodney was driving a car being chased by the LAPD at speed up to 80 mph. When stopped by several police cars and at least one helicopter, his passengers surrendered without incident. Rodney started acting strange. He made a move that officers interpreted as aggressive. He later stated that he ran because a DUI would void his probation and send him back to jail. This was the extraordinary circumstance. This was the point that Rodney’s life and the lives of several people would be changed forever. This one decision, we all make them, most go unnoticed. 

 Rodney was tasered and struck at least 56 times with batons. George Holiday caught all of this on video. Video that would be used at the trial of the officers involved. The officers were tried in state court and found not guilty of criminal conduct. The outcome of the trial that ended on April 29, 1992 was the catalyst for the riots that started right after the verdict. Fifty-three people were killed in the riots. Twenty-three hundred and eight-three people were injured, there were around 7,000 fires and 3,100 businesses were damaged. It all happened in the very neighborhood of the rioters. They burned their own neighborhood down. Two years later, Lawrence Powell and Stacey Koon were convicted in Federal Court of violating Rodney King’s civil right and sentenced to 32 months in prison.

Rodney spent the next twenty-two years in notoriety, both a reluctant symbol of the civil right struggle and the catalyst of anger and rage. Our message today… when we get up tomorrow morning we will not know the ripple effect of our actions until they are complete. Are we living a life that could lead to positive or negative reactions? Are we one road rage away for notoriety?  Are we one text message away from multifactorial events that will change lives forever? The lives of people we don’t even know. Neither the police officers or Rodney knew the people lost in the riots, yet each had an impact on their lives and the lives of those who did know them.