Journalists and photojournalists can’t be everywhere at all times. Sometimes things happen or escalate unexpectedly and the only ones who can document those happenings are the ordinary citizens. Newsworthy citizen-shot photos and videos are generally taken as seriously as the ones taken by the professionals.
The Zapruder film which shows the assassination of John F. Kennedy is obviously the most important citizen shot video of all time. But another piece of citizen-shot footage that became a media sensation is the beating of Rodney King.
The video was recorded by George Holliday, a plumber from San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. He had recently bought a brand new Sony camcorder but he wouldn’t have imagined that the purchase would have made an impact on his life.
Source: CBS Evening News
Rodney King: The parolee who didn’t pull over
It was close to 1 AM on March 3rd, 1991. George Holliday was sleeping when police sirens and helicopters started swarming his house. He went to the balcony and saw a man surrounded by four police officers. The man on the ground was Rodney King. He tried to get up on his feet, but the officers kept hitting him over and over again with their batons.
George Holliday felt that he was witnessing something very important and that it needed to be documented. He picked up his camcorder and started filming.Two days later Holliday approached the local news station KTLA that aired the footage. Journalists investigated the circumstances of the video and the beatdown. A few days later one of the most important events ever recorded was broadcasted all over the world.
What happened on March 3, 1991?
In the early morning on March 3rd, police noticed a car speeding onto the Foothill freeway in Los Angeles. Police officers pursued the car but the driver wouldn’t pull over. When he finally pulled over, four LAPD officers who arrived at the scene ordered the passengers to exit the car. Rodney King who was intoxicated and at the same time was on parole for robbery refused to act as instructed. When he did leave the car, the officers started brutally beating the driver with their batons. He was hit more than 50 times. After the beating, King was taken to the hospital. He later showed severe injuries like a broken ankle, fractured facial bone and bruises all over the body to the reporters.
Despite the videotape, the jury acquitted three officers but could not agree on the charges against one of the four officers involved in King’s beating. Within hours of the juror's verdict, LA erupted in riots. The riots caused the death of 53 people and more than 2.000 were injured.
Today, 26 years later, Holliday is still sure he did the right thing and urges others to record what they witness-as long as they know what they share reflects the reality.
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