Rodney King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the US history, has died, his publicist says.
King was 47.
King’s death was confirmed to the Associated Press news agency on Sunday by Suzanne Wickham of Harper Collins, who published King’s 2012 book The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.
His fiancee found his body at the bottom of a swimming pool, but there was no sign of foul play, the BBC reported.
The 1992 riots, set off by the acquittals of the officers, lasted three days and left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and portions of Los Angeles on fire.
At the height of the violence, King pleaded on television: “Can we all get along?”
King was stopped for speeding on a darkened street on March 3, 1991. Four Los Angeles police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns.
A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a television station.
It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.
It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, California.
Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.
Violence erupted immediately, starting in South Los Angeles.
Police, seemingly caught off-guard, were quickly outnumbered by rioters and retreated. As the uprising spread to the city’s Koreatown area, shop owners armed themselves and engaged in running gun battles with looters.
During the riots, a white lorry driver named Reginald Denny was pulled by several black men from his cab and beaten almost to death.
He required surgery to repair his shattered skull, reset his jaw and put one eye back into its socket.