ROAD TO REDEMPTION: Rodney King, 47, was found dead in his swimming pool on Sunday, June 17. In April, he was a featured author at the LA Times Festival of Books, where he discussed his autobiography, 'The Riot Within.' (Photo: Susan J. Rose/Newscom)
Rodney King’s untimely death over the weekend has led to a lot of conversations about his significance as a key civil rights figure. King, of course, gained fame for the 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles cops that he endured and the subsequent race riot that followed in 1992 after the officers were acquitted of any wrongdoing. He then became an unlikely voice of reason when, in the midst of the deadly and destructive rioting, he famously asked, “Can we all just get along?” Sadly, that question still echoes today after each new racially charged issue or controversy that erupts in the media.
But what will be King’s lasting legacy? By his own admission, he was not a perfect man. In fact, drunk driving and alleged substance abuse were the reasons he was pulled over by the L.A. cops initially in 1991, and he continued to struggle with drugs and alcohol apparently until the night of his death. In a Los Angeles Times post, reporter Ken Streeter recalls his series of interviews with King this year and confirms that King was still drinking and still smoking pot (he said for medical reasons).
So, King doesn’t exactly fit the classic image of the heroic civil rights icon. Yet, he stands as an important symbol in our nation’s uneasy saga of racial unrest and our stutter steps toward reconciliation.
Writing at The Root, Sylvester Monroe speaks of King as a “symbol” whose pain and missteps were not in vain. Last year at Poynter.org, Steve Myers observed how citizen journalism has changed since that infamous video of King being beaten by police. An Associated Press report at HuffPost’s Black Voices attempts to summarize King’s significance in shining a light on the injustices of racial profiling and police brutality in urban law enforcement. The article features an interview with Lou Cannon, author of Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD.
“The King beating and trial set in motion overdue reforms in the LAPD and that had a ripple effect on law enforcement throughout the country,” Cannon explains. Indeed, under L.A. police Chief William Bratton in the 2000s, the department began focusing on community policing, hired more minority officers, and worked to heal tensions between the police and minority communities who continued to protest racial profiling and excessive use of force.
In the post-Rodney King world, adds Cannon, “It became more perilous to pull someone over for driving while black.”
To his credit, King was well aware of his shortcomings and shared his story in an autobiography released earlier this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots. In The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, King came clean about his failures and his continued struggles with alcohol addiction, but also about how God had helped him begin to turn his life around.
In a poignant interview with the Canadian public radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi, King talked about his book and expressed optimism about both his own future and the state of race relations in the United States.
What do you view as Rodney King’s legacy? What does his complicated journey say about race relations in America? Will he rightly be remembered a civil rights icon?
IMMIGRATION SHIFT: President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 15, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)
President Obama announced June 15 that the Department of Homeland Security will stop targeting young undocumented immigrants for deportation under certain circumstances.
Deferrals for Immigrant Children
“Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation,” CNN reported. It also allows these immigrants to apply for work permits if they are currently in the United States and can prove that they have been for at least five years, the article said.
Renewed Support from Evangelicals
The president’s announcement follows a June 12 announcement that more than 100 Evangelical leaders have signed a Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform. The statement calls for “a bipartisan solution on immigration” that respects human dignity and the rule of law, protects family unity, guarantees secure borders, ensures fairness to taxpayers, and establishes a “path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”
‘Path to Citizenship’ Controversial
Christianity Today reported that only the path to citizenship point “is likely to touch on anything controversial,” because “the other five principles represent values that the vast majority of Americans believe should drive immigration reform.”
Focus on the Family Joins the Fight
The Los Angeles Times reported that although evangelical leaders like Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson have supported immigration reform for several years, this is the first time that Focus on the Family has affirmed support for the issue.
‘Political Cover’ for President Obama
At The Daily Beast, David Sessions opined that “thanks to an emerging coalition of religious leaders, [immigration reform] might be the only issue where there is plausible common ground to be shared between the White House and the GOP base.” Perhaps he is correct. CNN described Evangelical and Catholic support for reform as “political cover” for the president.
Whether Obama’s political move will win him votes or backfires is the subject of a roundup at The Week, should you care about such things.
Gov. Romney’s ‘Tricky Balancing Act’
On Sunday, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told “Face the Nation’s” Bob Schieffer that “if [Obama] really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or with illegal immigration in America, than this is something he would have taken up in his first three and a half years, not in his last few months,” The Washington Post reported.
Today, CBS described Romney’s position on the issue as “a tricky balancing act” of “aggressively courting the Hispanic vote, which could be decisive in the election” while holding on to his “conservative base that wants tough immigration policies.”
Impacted Immigrants Have Questions
Meanwhile, the young undocumented immigrants that the law directly impacts have questions, according to the Associated Press. They want to know: “Is it too good to be true? How will it actually work? What are the risks or pitfalls?”
What Do You Think?
Should young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally be eligible for a path to citizenship?