The Life of Rodney King: 7 Memorable Quotes

In 1991, Rodney King was the victim of police brutality that would set off a wave of public disquiet towards racial discrimination. Forced into the role of a civil rights figure, King’s life became very public from that day onward, uncovering both his saintly attributes and the gritty, dark nature of his alcohol and drug addiction. Without King’s plight, it is debatable as to whether we’d have the same progress towards racial equality that we have today. In light of Rodney King’s recent death, these seven quotes highlight his life and the battles he fought in his short, 47 years.

  1. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to be drinking.”

    On the night that the beating occurred, King initially admits to resisting or fleeing from the police because he was on parole and did not want to go back to jail. King had been drinking to excess with a few friends and was driving down a Los Angeles highway when police signaled for him to pull over. Instead of doing so, a high-speed chase ensued. “I had a job to go to that Monday, and I knew I was on parole, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to be drinking, and I’m like ‘Oh, my God,’” King uttered in reference to his behavior that night. When he finally did stop and was cornered, King refused to lay prone on the ground and was brutally beaten with batons and even tasered for several minutes, which was recorded on video by a nearby witness. That video would later circulate voraciously in the news media, causing a public outcry.

  2. “I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time.”

    After the beating occurred, officer Laurence Powell called for an ambulance and sent two controversial messages over his communications network to the other LAPD officers. “Ooops” Powell said, “I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time.” Powell, along with officers Koon, Briseno, and Wind, were then tried in state court with an all-white jury for assault and excessive force used by a police officer, but were acquitted of all but one charge. This is what sparked the ensuing Los Angeles Riots of 1992, as a protest for the injustice of police officers getting away with near-murder. The five days of rioting, looting, and violence — even murder took place — resulted in $735 million in property damage and 53 deaths.

  3. “Can we all get along?”

    King’s most poignant and famous quote was uttered in the midst of the rioting. Chosen to speak in a press conference in attempts to quell the ongoing violence, King pleaded, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?…It’s just not right. It’s not right.” King was originally handed a lengthy script, but ditched it and spoke from the heart. With a trembling voice, he noted that the rioting was not the answer to the racial discrimination and police brutality, and that it merely worsened the situation. After the fact, King professed in a Los Angeles Times interview that he felt some unwanted pressure to be a civil rights symbol, noting that “People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks…But it’s hard to live up to some people’s expectations, which [I] wasn’t cut out to be.”

  4. “It was easier to show them by being on TV.”

    In spite of the peace advocacy message that King represented, he struggled continuously with alcoholism and drug addiction throughout his life. In 2008, King agreed to be on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” a reality TV series that shows celebrities overcoming their addictions through therapy with Dr. Drew Pinsky. King underwent the very public rehab in an effort to set his demons aside and keep his rapidly unraveling home life together. “I understand the hurt, and now I’m seeking help for myself. Putting myself out there is a good way for me to overcome the addiction. I want my kids to understand me, and it was easier to show them by being on TV,” King said of his role on the show. During the filming process, Pinksy took King to the site of his beating and King was able to bring himself to forgive the LAPD for the pain they caused him.

  5. “It just so happened that we reconnected.”

    In September 2010, King rekindled a relationship with a past acquaintance and declared her his fiancée. Coincidentally, Cynthia Kelley was one of the jurors who awarded King $3.8 million in the famous trial more than fifteen years prior. “We hadn’t spoken to each other for many years, and it just so happened that we reconnected,” King said of his affections for Kelley, “It was like we were never apart from one another.” Kelley and King first became personally acquainted the day after he was awarded in court on Newport Beach. They were both in relationships, but felt a romantic spark.

  6. “It made the world a better place.”

    Twenty years after the rioting, Los Angeles Times interviewed King, who was living a simple life at his home on the outskirts of Ontario. Although King was jobless and on the verge of being completely broke, he thought back on the events that comprised his life without regret. “I would change a few things, but not that much,” King said, “Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn’t, but that’s not true. It changed things. It made the world a better place.” His bitter outlook on the events had changed to appreciation for its effect on history. King had lost all $3.8 million awarded to him in court, mostly from paying out his lawyers and wasting it away over time. He was, however, expecting an advance for his autobiography that went on sale later that week, “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.” He was still reportedly drinking and smoking marijuana, but referred to himself as a recovering addict.

  7. “It just sounded like someone was really sad.”

    On June 17, 2012, Rodney King was declared dead after his fiancée Cynthia Kelley found him in the bottom of their pool. Unable to swim after him, she waited until police arrived before King was resurfaced from the water, where he appeared lifeless. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Sandra Gardea, King’s neighbor, noted that she heard a commotion around three in the morning. “It just sounded like someone was really sad,” she said. “There was a lot of moaning and crying. Another person was trying to console that person.” An autopsy is in the works, as his death is currently shrouded in mystery.