On March 3, 1991, 25-year-old Rodney King lay dying on the ground of a Los Angeles apartment complex after being brutally beaten by police officers. In the aftermath of his attack, a video capturing the event was released to media outlets throughout the country, making “Rodney King” a household name.
In 1992, after the four police officers accused of using excessive force against King were acquitted, a series of riots in Los Angeles County ensued. Over a period of 6 days, widespread looting, murder, and arson ravaged the city- costing the local government $1 billion in damages. During the LA Riots, many activists, entertainers, and Rodney King himself called for peace.
In the decades following the riots, many entertainers referenced the beating of King in their music. In his 1992 hit, “When will they shoot”, Ice Cube expresses his concern regarding the increased violence between black men and police officers. Thurz, one half of the rap group U-N-I, titled his 2011 debut album “LA Riots”. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released a song entitled “Peace in LA” in 1992. LA native, rapper, 2pac Shakur also released a song called “Hellrazor” in 1997. In the song, Shakur alluded to the death of Latasha Harlins, a young lady killed by a storeowner on March 16, 2012, 13 days after King was beaten. “Little girl like Latasha had to die. She never got to see the bullet, just heard the shot. Her little body couldn’t take it, it shook and dropped. And when I saw it on the news I see busta girl killin Tasha.”
On June 17, 47-year-old King’s significant other found him dead in his swimming pool. Though his life has ended, his legacy continues. The King case continues to elicit a strong emotional response from all who learn about it. The media attention surrounding the case has inspired discussion and policy to combat the issue of police brutality. Though the LA riots highlighted a time of great dissention among people of various ethnic backgrounds, it also encouraged widespread peace.
True to music’s imitation of life and life’s imitation of music, King’s story serves as a muse for music artists to encourage peace and equality among all people. King was able to transform the music industry because he encouraged artists to speak musically about the dangerous issues society faces and how each of us has a responsibility to fight injustice and make our world a better place.2pac, Angel Mills, Ice Cube, La Riots, Latasha Harlins, Rodney King, Thurz, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers