By Jerome H Skolnick
The now-famous videotape of the thrashing of Rodney King brought on a countrywide outcry opposed to police violence. Skolnick and Fyfe, of the nation's most sensible specialists on legislations enforcement, use the incident to introduce a revealing old research of such violence and the level of its survival in legislations enforcement this day.
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Additional resources for Above the Law. Police and the Excessive Use of Force
They thought King got what he deserved. So they did not perceive police brutality in the videotaped beating. Overzealousness, perhaps, but not brutality. When some of the officers testified that King, who suffered multiple injuries and bone fractures after repeated blows, displayed “superhuman strength” and resisted arrest when he first got out of the car, the jurors believed the officers. After all, in the second America people are taught to believe that large black men enjoy superhuman strength.
Historically, juries were conceived as a check on judges who were thought to be so close to the authorities that ordinary folks would be treated unfairly in the courtroom. The independence of juries is so valued that they are allowed to nullify the evidence and fail to convict, when it appears perfectly clear, as in the King trial, that the defendants were guilty. Without King’s presence in the courtroom, he remained an abstraction, painted in sinister hues by the astute defenders of four young men who appeared in court every day.
The cops on the scene were responding to a code they believed in and considered to be moral. The code decrees that cops protect other cops, no matter what, and that cops of higher rank back up working street cops—no matter what. From the perspective of the indicted cops, Daryl Gates betrayed the code. Sergeant Koon was, in effect, alleging that Chief Gates was changing the unwritten rules, and consequently undermining the tradition of the organization. Police department traditions and the norms police live by are sustained by street incidents.