Rodney King is dead

by John MacBeath Watkins

Rodney King is dead at 47. His fiance heard a noise, saw him in the pool and called for help. Paramedics pulled him from the bottom of the pool and tried to revive him to no avail.

He still lived in Los Angeles, where video of police beating him result in a criminal trial of four LAPD officers. Their acquittal set off riots and finally changed policing in the city. (Two officers were later tried and convicted on federal charges.) Those riots killed 37 people and did more than $200 million in damage.

To my mind, the most remarkable moment in his story occurred when rioting had been going on for three days, and he came out of seclusion to make a statement.

"People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?" he said. The man had nearly died, had been operated on for five hours after his beating, but he still had enough forgiveness in him to ask for peace. And he got it. The rioting ended. And watching him say that on television, I saw a different man than I had expected.

King was on parole for a robbery conviction, had been drinking in violation of his parole, and tried to flee police because he didn't want to go back to jail. That's what resulted in the cops catching him and beating him.

He was no angel, but in that moment when he asked for peace, he showed there was a good man in there trying to get out. He was close to tears in that statement, displaying empathy for the victims of the rioting. He was not so involved in his own troubles to imagine he was the only one suffering.

He sued the city and got $3.8 million, but he had more brushes with the law. He wrote a memoir, The Riot Within, about his life, his personal demons, his struggle with sobriety and the beating. He appeared on the reality show Celebrity Rehab, and Bob Forrest, the counselor who worked with him on the show, remembers him as "a wonderful, sweet man."

You don't expect a hard man, an ex-con and former robber, to be a sympathetic character in life's pageant, but there was a kind of redemption in King's life.

From the CNN story about his death:
King said earlier this year he has forgiven the officers who beat him.

"Yes, I've forgiven them, because I've been forgiven many times," he said. "My country's been good to me ... This country is my house, it's the only home I know, so I have to be able to forgive -- for the future, for the younger generation coming behind me, so ... they can understand it and if a situation like that happened again, they could deal with it a lot easier."