Mention the Rodney King video and many people know exactly what you're talking about. In 1991 a group of 15 Los Angeles police officers savagely beat a man, 25-year old Rodney King, as he lay on the ground and were videotaped by someone standing on a balcony who happened to have his video camera handy.
Police savagery was not new then and it continues to this moment, but now, people can make Rodney King videos with their cell phones, and as part of a phenomenon commonly known as citizen journalism, immediately post them on Youtube, and police misconduct is more likely to become public knowledge.
The right to record police activity comes from the fact that it occurs in public and from the fact that police are on the public payroll and rightly subject to scrutiny by the public, but with the rise of citizen journalism has come a corresponding rise in cases in which police have harassed, beaten and arrested the people who are doing the recording.
The struggle over the right to record the police is an important thing to keep abreast of because it's a key part of a larger issue. Part of the same issue are the recent debates over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) recently signed into law by President Obama into which provisions had been quietly inserted that allow for indefinite detention of American citizens without trial, without access to an attorney, and without access to the courts, i.e., to be essentially, "disappeared" like Latin American dictatorships once did to those who opposed them. Part of the same issue is the ongoing debate over the internet censorship bills now before congress, SOPA and PIPA, and over the infamous Patriot Act and over all kinds of other measures by which the government has been increasing its capacity to spy on and subdue the citizenry, a capacity which by its very existence means necessarily that it will be used.
The larger issue is, of course, whether the United States will remain a free country. The larger issue is how much the authorities, or more accurately, how much the rich, whose interests it is the primary function of government to protect, fear we the citizenry and to what lengths they will go to keep us under their control.
When the Rodney King video surfaced, the term "police brutality" was still in common use. Police brutality was still on peoples' minds. The term rose during the 1960s and 70s, when there were people in the streets in the US and the police were sent out to subdue them. There was the Civil Rights movement, the anti Vietnam War movement, the Chicano Rights movement, the Woman's Rights movement, the Gay Rights movement, and the general sense of dissatisfaction with the powers that be that was being expressed by those movements and embodied by the the millions of people who were trying to find a better way to live known of as the Counterculture. All these people knew what was meant by the term "police brutality."
|Rodney King - Thurz album cover|
But as the Occupy Movement emerges from its winter of regrouping, reformulating and reorganizing, as it is doing already, as Anonymous continues to shut down government web sites and expose the private lives of those who abuse power, as people in the Arab World and even in places like Russia continue to flood the streets in great numbers, as little heard about strikes continue to break out in China, and as under the Neoliberal economic model now embraced by the ruling classes worldwide, the economic screws being applied to the working classes the world over keep getting tighter, expect the term police brutality, or something like it, to be on peoples' lips once again. But be aware also that something else, something larger, something on the whole much more savage, is going on, too.