Rodney King, a Los Angeles police beating victim who reluctantly became an icon of civil rights movement, was found dead Sunday in his swimming pool in Rialto, Calif. King never set out to be a James Meredith or Rosa Parks, says the L.A. Times. He was a drunk, unemployed construction worker on parole when he careened into the city’s consciousness in a white Hyundai early one Sunday morning in 1991. While he was enduring the videotaped blows that would reverberate around the world, he wanted to escape to a nearby park where his father used to take him. He simply wanted to survive.
He did survive, but the brutal beating transformed the troubled man into a symbol of police abuse and racial tensions, of one of the worst urban riots in American history. More tangibly, the tape of his beating and the upheaval that followed in 1992 brought about the resignation of the long-reigning Los Angeles police chief, Daryl Gates, and opened the door to widespread police reform in the city and beyond. But King struggled with the expectations freighted upon him, with addictions, legal problems and financial woes, with the name that transcended the man himself and the ragged reality he lived.