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Keller @ Large: What We Learned From Rodney King

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Rodney King on April 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rodney King on April 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Rest in peace, Rodney King, who passed away yesterday at age 47. “Troubled” doesn’t do justice to the story of his adult life; “tortured” is more like it.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:


King was 25 years old and on parole from a grocery-store robbery conviction when he and two buddies were nabbed for speeding on the freeway after an evening of partying. His blood-alcohol content at the time was later estimated to have been more than twice the legal limit.

And rather than risk the DUI bust, King took off and led the cops on a chase at speeds touching 100 MPH. When they finally stopped him, he didn’t cooperate with the arrest and force was used to subdue him.

You can go on the internet and see for yourself what happened next: two of the officers brutalized Rodney King, while others stood and watched.

And when the criminal case against the police failed a year later, the so-called L.A. riots left more than 50 dead and South L.A. in ruins.

What did we learn from it all?

That as angry as law-abiding people of all colors were about the type of crimes Rodney King was committing, and about the looters who exploited the story, there was equally intense anger within the black community of L.A. and elsewhere over police brutality.

Crime rates are down since those bad old days, and they say there has been improvement in the police-public relationship.

If that’s true, give part of the credit to Rodney King for what he said when the riots broke out.

“Can we all get along?” he asked. “Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”

In that moment, King transcended both his criminal past and his victimhood and put the broader public interest ahead of his own.

He prioritized an end to the suffering of others over justice for his own suffering.

It’s not just the older people and the kids who want a peaceful culture free of recklessness, street violence, and abuse of power.  That’s as true now as it was in 1991.

Rodney King’s nightmare is still a worthwhile reminder of that.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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