His fiancée found his body lying at the bottom of his swimming pool, June 17, 2012. He was 47.
Well known, but not well known for academic or civic achievements, he made his living as a taxi driver, delivering passengers from point A to point B in LA.
That changed March 3, 1991.
He burst upon the international scene from a high speed chase. Apprehended, beaten, arrested, hospitalized in critical condition and subsequently incarcerated, Rodney King moved to the center of controversy and derision as a thousand interpretations of a videotape of what happened to him at the hands of the LA police made news around the world.
Policemen put on trial for abuse were acquitted. Riots followed. Most observers opined that the acquittals triggered the 1992 riots Los Angeles. The riots were said to have “caused 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, 7000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses.”
During the height of the riots, the power brokers of LA decided that the word of a convict would accomplish what they could not, cessation of the riot. Lawyers drew up a script for him to read on television. King rejected it. Instead of speaking to the rioters alone about their behavior, Rodney King spoke to all God’s people about their behavior in LA, New York, Paris, Beirut, Israel, Africa, in fact the whole world, with an unscripted God inspired speech that will be recalled for years to come. “Can we all get along?” known more widely as “Can’t we all just get along?” was his memorable plaintive cry.
When Rodney King fielded questions about his legacy from the BBC, he responded, “Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction (the LA riots), like I’m a fool for believing in peace.”
To a world steeped in violence and terror at every hand, where forgiveness and reconciliation are drowned out by others who allegedly know a better way, Rodney King’s unscripted spirit driven statement stands on the shoulders of folk like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus of Nazareth (the Prince of Peace) who espoused the way of peace while suffering violent deaths themselves. A Christmas Refrain framed by one who became persona non grata to many in America finds truth and resonance in minds and hearts unable to stop the cycles of violence washing over us daily.
And so we respond like Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Who will answer?