From Rodney King and Tyre Nichols: 33 Years of Police Brutality. Where is Our Humanity?


By Siggy Raible

Have we learned nothing over the past 33 years?

On March 3, 1991 Rodney King, 26 years old, was stopped by Los Angeles police officers for allegedly driving while intoxicated. He was brutally beaten. The footage of that ordeal was caught by a witness standing on a balcony overlooking the scene. Mr. King was taken to the hospital and survived.

On January 10, 2023, Tyre Nichols, 29 years old, was stopped by Memphis police officers for “driving erratically.” In circumstances eerily similar to Mr. King’s encounter, Mr. Nichols briefly escaped the police officers who had dragged him out of the car and proceeded to pepper spray and stun gun him. After re-capturing Mr. Nichols, the five police officers repeatedly punched, kicked, and beat him with a baton until he lay motionless on the street. After three days in the hospital Mr. Nichols died.

In Mr. King’s case the four officers were White. In a state trial three were acquitted and a jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge against the fourth police officer. A federal proceeding was brought and two officers were found guilty and two were acquitted. In a civil suit against the LAPD, a jury awarded Mr. King $3.8 million in damages. In Nichols’ case, the five officers were Black. They were fired from the police department and were charged with second-degree murder. In both incidences, Mr. King and Mr. Nichols did not present themselves as threats to the police officers. My question, given that these men posed no threats—why were they so severely beaten?

Watching the videos of both beatings is heart-rending. No human deserves a beating—no matter the crime. I must ask myself and my fellow human beings: Are we a civilized society?

How does it happen that Black men lose their lives to police officers (who are meant to protect us) for “crimes” such as “driving erratically,” or selling loosies (one or two cigarettes on the street) or passing a phony $20 bill?

I am a White woman who never had to consider issues of whether the police were present to protect me; I took it for granted. It appears to me that growing up Black, whether male or female, you do not have that privilege.

So, I am left with my un-answered question: Are we a civilized society? And in response I think back to a statement made by Rodney King years after his encounter with the police, “Why can’t we all just get along?” A simple question: one we should all consider.


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