Rebel of the Week: George Holliday, The Man Who Filmed The Rodney King Beating

June 20th, 2012

AP Photo

In case you haven’t read the Silver Underground before, a little something about us: We don’t like police brutality. Like we really, really don’t like it. Back a few months ago when I was on my laptop watching police departments across the nation attack and beat up Occupy protesters in cities everywhere, it made my blood boil, and I don’t even like Occupy protesters. But this is America, and people have the right to say and do things other people don’t like. I’m always going to side with the person I don’t like over the person beating the crap out of them on a sidewalk with metal batons and shooting them with rubber bullets and tear gas agents.

To  be completely honest, I don’t like Rodney King, the iconic 1990s police brutality victim who recently died at the age of 47 of an accidental drowning in his home swimming pool. King’s life is hardly anything I would aspire to. He was a drug abuser, a reckless driver, a violent criminal– in 1989, a couple years before his infamous high-speed chase and brutal beating by Los Angeles police, he robbed a Korean store owner, striking him with a metal pole and making off with $200 of the small business owner’s money. But his life did have its redeeming moments.

When the acquittal of his four police attackers was announced at the end of a trial in 1992 a few months after the incident, Los Angeles erupted into massive riots for a week, claiming dozens of lives and costing an estimated billion dollars in damage and theft. That’s when King went on national television to calm the mob rioting on his behalf, saying the now famous words: “Can we all get along?” Watch the clip on YouTube sometime. The man was clearly beside himself because of all the violence happening in his name. He may have had a rough life and made many bad decisions, but unlike half the world’s politicians who are psychopathic enough to revel in mass violence that they directly cause, Rodney King wasn’t a monster. He had a conscience and a heart of flesh. He was a human being.

Whatever crimes Rodney King did commit in his life, he didn’t deserve the kind of beating he took from police caught on video that infamous night in 1991. Just watch it. It was excessive. It was unnecessary. It was incredibly brutal. A severe beating is not a lawfully prescribed sanction against criminal activity here in America. Even if it was, it’s not up to the police to carry out punishments as judge, jury, and executioner right at the scene of the crime. If Rodney King had been someone else, he would not have been treated this way. He should not have been recklessly driving under the influence of alcohol, but if he had been a rich, North Eastern, white man, instead of a poor, Californian, black man, he could have been driving under the influence of alcohol, and crashed his car into a lake, and fled the scene leaving a girl in his passenger seat to drown and die, and he’d still get to be a Senator from Massachusetts for the rest of his life. Instead he got beaten half to death.

But in the war against police brutality, our mightiest weapon has been the camera, and that’s exactly why so many police are so camera shy, which is a diplomatic way of saying that they absolutely hate and loathe cameras. You can tell just by the way they react when the camera is pointed at them. In dozens upon dozens of videos all around the Internet, you can watch as they turn all cold and prickly when they see that red light, order the cameraperson to shut off the device (as if they have the authority to), sometimes even lying and saying the journalist is required by law to comply with the officer’s orders. You can just tell cameras seriously ruin their day.

That’s why our hats are off to one of the first and most notable uses of the camera as a check against police brutality and a way of keeping our government accountable. Though I’ve spent much of this post discussing Rodney King because the issues raised by his life are noteworthy and important and worth discussing in the aftermath of his death, the true rebel here is George Holliday, who was the man who filmed the Rodney King beating and created the video that would alter the course of American history for better or worse. Holliday woke up that night in his Los Angeles apartment to the sounds of police sirens and a helicopter. Seeing the incident unfold on the street outside, he took his brand-new Sony Handycam (), and recorded the police brutally beating Rodney King.

Holliday’s action was the opening salvo in a modern, citizen media war against police brutality. They’re armed with batons, tasers, sonic waves, rubber bullets, metal bullets, and chemical agents that our military can’t even use on terrorists. We’re “armed” with cameras. They have force on their side. We have truth. We have the ability to record the truth and play it back for others to see. Since the Rodney King beating, there have been thousands of other George Hollidays. His Sony camera was huge, cumbersome, and expensive compared to the tiny, high resolution, digital cameras that today most people carry in their pockets in some form or another, including the ones built into most cell phones. Police cannot act in public anywhere without the likely possibility that someone could film them if they’re up to no good.

Getting up in the middle of the night in LA in the early 1990s to videotape a violent incident between police and a suspect, one apparently so serious that multiple officers and a helicopter is involved, takes a lot of courage. George Holliday’s willingness to exercise his right of free speech and press, his act of citizen journalism to keep our police accountable for their actions, lands him a spot on the Silver Underground blog as this week’s rebel!

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About the Author: Wes

Wesley Messamore, 24, is an independent journalist and political activist who believes in the Founding Father's vision of a free, enlightened, and moral America. He also blogs at