The Beating of Rodney King
Throughout police history in the United States and around the world there have been numerous incidents of reported police brutality and other forms of corruption including taking bribes, theft, sexual deviance, and many more. In our present time corruption has decreased significantly from what it once was decades ago but still exists. One of the most publicized cases of police brutality, if not the most, was the beating of Rodney King. Most people have heard about the case and seen the video of the brutal beating that took place in Los Angeles on the night of March 2, 1991. The video shown to the public contained officers appearing to beat Mr. King while he is on the ground while other officers appeared to be “Observing the beating”₁ and doing nothing to stop it. After an initial view of the footage it is very easy to jump to conclusions that the beating was simply an act of unnecessary police brutality and that Mr. King was just an innocent African-American man being subjected to racism and brutality by white police. There is no question that the force used by the officers in this case may have been excessive but what preceded the event must come into consideration when looking at the ethical issue of the officers conduct.
On the night of March 2, 1991, King was driving on Foothill Freeway when at around 12:30 am when a husband and wife team of the California Highway Patrol, spotted King’s Hyundai behind them at a very high speed. The Singers than began to pursue King with their lights flashing but King did not respond and exited the highway forcing the highway patrol, along with other officers and a helicopter, on a high speed chase that lead to speeds up to 117 mph. Eventually King’s vehicle was cornered and he surrendered although displaying bizarre behavior such as “smiling” and “waving his hands”. Officer Singer yelled for King to get on the ground which he complied with. King then appeared to reach for a weapon (he was actually unarmed) which prompted Singer to draw her weapon and point it towards King. Sergeant Koon ordered the officer to holster her weapon and draw her baton, which is what every officer did on the scene. Koon stated later that this was done to prevent King from being killed. Officers began to suspect King as being “dusted”, a slang term meaning under the influence of PCP, a dissociative drug that is described by police as their worst nightmare due to effects from the drug that seem to make individuals unaffected by pain. After King was on the ground the Sergeant ordered the officers to swarm King in order to cuff him. Being 6’3 in height and what officers called “Buffed Out” King was somehow able to “throw an officer off” and get to his feet. Stunned by this officers than reacted by hitting King twice with a taser gun which temporarily subdued him but was somehow still able to get up to his feet. At this point the sergeant ordered the officers to subdue King with batons. The three officers involved in the actual beating were officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno. The other Officers on scene just stood by as specters during the brutal beating. King was hit about 50 times with batons including two blows to the head and “stomps” to his shoulder delivered by officer Briseno. The film released to the public on this assault was recorded by a local resident by the name of George Holliday.
What many people failed to realize is that there were many different aspects of this beating and many preceding events that lead to this assault that were not caught on camera. Although the force was excessive, police officers have a duty (Immanuel Kant) to protect the public and themselves. The three officers were acting on an original order from their superior, Sergeant Koon, who proceeded to stand by and allow his officers to continue the beating even when it seemed King had been subdued. According to the deontological theory that Kant created the officers...