In 1991, 14 Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) police officers brutally beat Rodney King, an African American motorist. Calling what these officers did to King “police brutality” paints a partial picture but is inadequate to explain their impact. They committed an act of domestic terrorism, and it was one that the world will never forget. King was hit more than 56 times. That’s almost five dozen blows. And we saw it all thanks to a bystander who filmed the assault and forwarded the footage to local media. And while the beating was captured on camera, only four, of the 14 LAPD officers involved, were charged.
With each instance of police terror, Black people have a question. Will this be the instance when the state finally acts to protect our lives and our interests? Yet our fraught relationship with law enforcement and the judicial system casts doubt on the possibility of justice. Each time an officer commits an act of violence, and walks away unpunished, a part of the Black community dies. A part of our hope dies. Yet in all of this, we remember the people whose skin looks like ours, though they wear a police uniform. We develop a nuanced position and distance ourselves from the system that allows police abuse while maintaining space for officers who look like us to do the right thing. But each time an officer goes unpunished for wrongdoing, that relationship with law enforcement is strained.
Since Rodney King’s brutal beating, the Black community has learned all too well that just because a cop is charged doesn’t mean he or she will ultimately be brought to justice. With the increased use of video, the hope has been that recorded footage will provide a slam-dunk indictment and prosecution of cops who despise Black bodies. After all, for years, Black people have voiced their experiences with racist cops, only to be told that it is our word against theirs. Without video, the prospect of a conviction is diminished. One would have thought that the video of King’s beating would have cleared things up, but in 1992, the officers were acquitted. The acquittal sent shockwaves through the Black community, leading to riots in the spring of 1992.
What the Rodney King case taught me, and every other Black boy in America is that our lives hold little value in a system that profits from white supremacy. It demonstrated that the system was designed to protect the perpetrator over the victim, especially if the victim is Black and the perpetrator is white.
I've been an organizer since I was 15, and I know the truth of Frederick Douglass' words, when he said, "The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just. For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others. Such a man, the world says, may lie down until he has sense enough to stand up. It is useless and cruel to put a man on his legs, if the next moment his head is to be brought against a curbstone."
I’ve studied under civil rights leaders and I know that power is not grounded in pleas or patience. I know that, while uncomfortable, protests and demonstrations matter. They push critical issues to the forefront of the national psyche and force the public to pay attention. They provide an opening to talk about uncomfortable issues, and they offer an on-ramp to discuss progressive solutions.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Atlanta protests
When I joined Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ press conference last week, I wanted to encourage young people, particularly young people who felt the level of rage I felt following the acquittal of the wicked cops who tortured and beat an innocent Black man. I wanted them to know that, while police violence can leave us feeling powerless, there are avenues and vehicles to channel our frustration and increase our power. Joining these organizations is not meant to replace protests, but rather to ensure young people and youth have a base of support and a place to plot, plan, mobilize and strategize.
» WATCH VIDEO: Killer Mike addresses protesters angry about George Floyd's death after protests turn violent in Atlanta.
It is immoral for police officers to assassinate Black people, only to have prosecutors be on the fence about whether to hold such officers accountable. It is unconscionable to experience police terror, only to watch some in the media put the victims on trial, instead of the perpetrators. It is distressing to watch subversive forces infiltrate peaceful demonstrations, only to have the blame placed solely on Black people and not the white nationalists showing up in these spaces.
As I think about how we got here, I am clear that the boundaries of Black bodies have been violated one time too many. What we are seeing is a passionate cry for justice, a cry that is neither timid nor uncertain, a cry that is conveying in the strongest sense possible that we will wait no longer. While it is not my place to determine how and when oppressed people raise dissent, I am hoping that, in all we do, we will connect with the grassroots groups in our respective communities that our fighting for Black lives. Groups and organizations like the Angela Project, Next Level Boys Academy, Racial Justice Now, the New Georgia Project, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and LIVE FREE campaign are why I am able to maintain a sliver of hope that change is possible.
Joining forces with them, we will bring life to the phrase “plot, plan, mobilize and strategize.”
» VIDEO: Who is Killer Mike?
» READ MORE ON AJC.COM | OPINION: Lives must matter in a most-serious time for us all
Michael Render, professionally known as Killer Mike, is an activist, Grammy Award-winning rapper, one half of the rap duo Run the Jewels, and host of the Netflix series, “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike.” His father was an Atlanta police officer. He and his wife Shana own the SWAG Shop barbershops in Atlanta.
About the Author