Rodney King as a Cultural Marker

University of Connecticut professor and New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb digs into Rodney King's passing and what it means to African Americans.

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Rodney King (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rodney King became much more than a man; he was a cultural marker who alerted America to the police state that existed. His beating and treatment at the hands of the police sparked the Los Angeles riots, writes Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker.

King later recalled that, during the beating, he thought of slaves being beaten in the old South. Not everyone needed to reach that far into history to find an analogy. In 1992, I was a college senior living in Washington, D.C. The images of King being struck more than fifty times by four police officers resonated with my own experience, recalled my own sharp memories of my fourteen-year-old self being stopped on my way home from a baseball game in Queens, shoved against a mailbox and searched because, the cop said, I fit the description of a mugger. I was wearing a mud-caked gray and orange uniform with the words Laurelton Little League emblazoned on the front. The policing of urban communities is full of complexities, but there is a social constant here: the combustible resentment that comes with the feeling that you're more likely to be brutalized or killed by people whom your taxes pay to protect you than by the people they're paid to protect you from. The blue line is thinner and more frayed in some places than others.

Read Jelani Cobb's entire piece in the New Yorker.

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