The Rodney King beating: what should have done instead?

The recent death of Rodney King has revived discussion of the police-administered beating that made him famous 20+ years ago.

I can’t seem to find it now, but around the time of the trial in which the involved officers were acquitted, I remember seeing a moment-by-moment narration of the entire beating video, highlighting King’s repeated attempts to get to his feet, instead of laying down and putting his hands behind his head, all of this happening after King had thrown off all of the cops during an initial attempt to cuff him; in fact, the beatdown finally ends when King stops trying to get up and actually does place his hands behind his head. The jury in the original trial apparently agreed with this interpretation of events, and acquitted the officers.

So here’s the debate:
Given Rodney King’s substantial physical strength and his demonstrated intent to resist arrest, what, if anything, should the arresting officers have done differently that night? I’m especially curious to hear input from current or former police officers.

Did police forces have non-leathal weapons at that point? (Besides batons, I mean).

Yes. Officers had used a taser on him, but he still would not comply with their commands to surrender.

Rodney King was a danger to those cops, and he deserved to be treated harshly for the safety of the officers at the scene.

That said, “harshly” ended quite some time before those cops started to beat a man that was clearly no longer a threat.

Can you identify the point at which he ceased being a threat? He had already thrown the officers off of him once, the first time they tried to cuff him. During the beat-down, he kept trying over and over again to get up, despite repeated orders to lay down and put his hands behind his head.

Put yourself on the scene as a responding officer: this suspect keeps trying to get up, refuses to follow your instructions. He’s behaving irrationally, and you suspect he may be high on PCP. How would you respond? Would you deliberately choose to wrestle with him, not knowing (yet) whether he’s carrying a gun or a knife in his pocket? Would you tase him again, knowing he refused to comply after the first tasing? Or would you keep your distance, yelling your orders at him (“lay down and put your hands behind your head!”), hitting him with your baton when he refuses to comply, with your backup officers ready to shoot him if he becomes a more immediate threat (e.g. by rising to his feet and/or getting his hands on an officer)?

Like I said, I have no doubt that he was refusing to comply. The man was a danger, and a life long ass. I have shed no tears now that he is gone.

When the infamous video starts, there is a man who is already done for writhing on the ground. He tries to get up, but it looks like your average nine year old girl could take it from there and get the cuffs on him. I’m quite sure that one cop with his knee in King’s back, and another putting cuffs on him, and the remaining four or so for backup could cuff him safely.

I’m guessing that had these officers known that there was a camera on them, they would have been able to pull this off without a problem. The baton hits and kicks are gratuitous; they are doing it because they can, not because they have to.

I think they should have used enough force to get him handcuffed instead of having four or five people club and kick the shit out of him while he was on the ground. I can’t give an exact amount of force that’s appropriate, but when a handful cops are dealing with an unarmed drunk, I’d say it’s something less than 50 to 60 strikes with a club plus some kicks. Most of that was because they were annoyed they had to chase him and because he didn’t go quietly. The frustration is understandable, but cops don’t get to beat the living shit out of people just because they’re annoyed.

Couldn’t 7 police officers just dogpile him and cuff him?

This seems to sum it up quite nicely.

It had been tried once already with four officers before the beating began:

I’m not a cop, but I suspect hand-to-hand combat with a suspect is a tactic of last resort, especially if the suspect is large and/or strong; if the suspect’s hands aren’t under control, he could reach for a knife or a gun (his or possibly even yours). Safer for the offficer to employ melee or standoff weapons (baton or gun, respectively) until the suspect begins complying with instructions.

Here’s one text-based account of the incident; here’s another. King was muscular, had risen to his feet after being tased twice, and because of his bizarre behavior prior to and during the beating, the officers believed he might have been high on PCP. In short, King was someone you would not have wanted to wrestle with.

If beating him with batons was a viable option, so was wrestling with him. Anybody that dangerous could have taken a baton from one of the officers.

It’s always going to be safer for the cop to shoot or beat someone from a distance than deal with him personally. That’s why a bad cop will Taser an elderly woman who protests a traffic ticket. (You never know, right?) That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a gang of cops to get their clubs and spend a solid minute wailing on someone who is on the ground. Next we’ll hear that King kept trying to get up while being clubbed - almost as if he were trying to get away from the people who were beating him.

And I’m not sure the “swarm” thing is identical to what Nars Ginley was asking about.

Because PCP makes you psychotic and gives you superhuman strength, as everybody who fell for '80s drug propaganda knows. You might think a group of cops would know better, but somehow this is supposed to be an excuse.

It’s been 20+ years since I’ve seen the video (and I’m not going looking for it now), but as I recall, it was quite obvious to me at the time that King was trying to get up because of the excess beat-down they were administering. I’d be trying desperately to get away from that, too. Given their goal of getting cuffs on him, the excessive force they were using was actually counterproductive.

ETA: In other words, what you said in your next post, right above mine.

I think that’s what most people would do. The alternative is lying there and hoping the beating stops before you’re killed. But I expect that next we’ll hear that that was “resisting arrest” and the cops were obliged to keep pounding him even more.

Well, if they were like Toronto police during the G7, they would have removed any identification badges from themselves, tried to confiscate any video that was taken, refused to identify each other, perjured themselves, and generally covered up any evidence of an assault.

Then they would have placed agents provocateurs into the riot crowds to make the riots bigger and more violent.

The LAPD were amateurs.

Just to give some perspective…

ABC News with video of the beating

There is no way that wasn’t gratuitous. These are trained policemen administering a brutal beating on a nearly defenseless man (in the part of the tape at the beginning of the report his attempts to get up are disorganized and helpless). I don’t believe there is any way to defend it as good policework.

I have personally seen three orderlies in a hospital subdue a large, muscular man flying on PCP. Those cops could have subdued King at almost any time and chose not to do so.

Not a former police officer, nor do I play one on the Straight Dope (I DID stay at a flee bag motel on Monday, however, so perhaps that qualifies me to respond…too bad it wasn’t a Holiday Inn Express though :frowning: ). What they SHOULD have done, however, was to subdue the perpetrator with the least amount of violence necessary. Obviously, training 20+ years ago isn’t what it is today, but still…beating the crap out of the guy was dis-recommended even way back then when dinosaurs ruled the earth. The guy was just, basically, drunk and disorderly…something that a group of cops should have been able to handle (I hadn’t heard that they tried a taser on him…assuming that’s true, wonder why it didn’t work??).


True, but what might he have done to the officers once he was on his feet and pissed off?

Run away?

You’re asking what King would have done to the five club-wielding cops if they’d stopped beating him and let him get back to his feet? I’m going to say “not very much.”