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LA marks 20 years since Rodney King beating

March 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Thursday marked 20 years since the day Los Angeles police officers were caught on camera beating Rodney King.

King was pulled over after leading police on a high-speed chase. Amateur video showed officers severely beating him during the arrest.

Four officers were acquitted of criminal charges. It was a decision that sparked violent riots that killed 55 people.

Some of those officers later were convicted of federal civil rights violations.

A violent chain of events was set off by the infamous video. LAPD officers, following a high-speed chase of a drunken driving suspec6t, took justice into their own hands. Rodney King was struck 56 times and a community said "enough."

"You could be mistaken for somebody and get killed," said South L.A. resident Dennis Bailey.

"L.A. was the original kick-butt policing agency," said Joe Hicks, the former head of L.A.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Young men would be taken out of cars and would be forced to lie face down in the street."

"This video was 'Exhibit A' to prove that their concerns about the tension between the Los Angeles Police Department and communities, and specifically communities of color, was actually occurring," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte.

Birotte was a law student then in the inspector general's office, which spent nearly two decades overseeing reforms within the LAPD.

From this incident the Christopher Commission was born, a top-to-bottom review of the LAPD. It used to be a police chief had civil service protection, but not anymore. Residents also voted in provisions for more civilian oversight.

"It has changed the entire police department. It's changed the way we're structured, it changed the way we work, it's changed the oversight capacity of the department, and it's changed the way that the rank and file handles their procedures," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

"I think three things come to mind: Increased transparency, increased civilian oversight, and increased community engagement," said Birotte. "And I think I was able to witness all three of those things directly."

"Number one the police is not as tough as they were on black people," said South L.A. resident Jimmy Dixon.

Thursday, as the spotlight shines once more on Rodney King, reforms are ongoing, with an emphasis on dialogue.

"Certainly in comparison to the police department back then, the department is transformed entirely," said Birotte.

"I think it's getting better each day. Each day it gets a little bit better," said Dixon.

Joe Hicks says there will always be critics, but he says the critics should be very encouraged by what they see today.