Nearly 25 years ago, the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police officers caused outrage in Los Angeles and throughout the nation. The video became a singular, notorious representation of the use of force by police. The case came to represent a hotbed of racial tension, and the officers’ subsequent acquittal of criminal charges lead to the outbreak of the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
Flash forward to the present day, there are high-quality video cameras on countless types of mobile devices and phones. In addition, the advent of portable video recorders has lead some police departments to equip officers with cameras that record the arrests they make and the people that they encounter. As a result, there have been more and more incidents of questionable (at minimum) police uses of force that have been captured on video that, with the advent of the internet, are readily available to the public in an instant. However, there seems to be significantly less outrage these days when incidents similar to the Rodney King beating occur.
Case in point, the recent video of a CHP officer repeatedly punching a black grandmother in the face and head along a Los Angeles freeway. The video has gone viral on social media, but it does not seem to have the galvanizing power that the Rodney King incident did in the 1990’s. Perhaps it is because the officer is using his fists instead of batons. Maybe.
But even beatings that result in death do not seem to enrage the community or the nation as they did with the King beating. In Orange County in 2011, Kelly Thomas was severely beaten by two Fullerton Police officers and later died of his injuries. The incident generated some local protests, but it was not national news on the level of the King beating. However, like the King case, the officers involved were later acquitted of murder charges, much to the disdain of many who followed the case.
Perhaps we have simply become desensitized to real-life violent imagery, made accessible largely through social media and the web. In an age of videotaped beheadings and other forms of extreme torture and murder easily accessed on shock websites at the click of a button, acts of brutality (whether by the police or not) sadly become a little more mundane. Violence has become digitally watered down in the public’s consciousness, and public sensitivity has waned as a result. Ironically, the more cameras and outlets that have become available as objective witnesses to police use of force, the less people seem to care.