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LEGACY OF A BEATING

Refracting History

Seven People, Seven Perspectives on the Events of March 3, 1991

March 04, 2001

The Cameraman]

Jolted out of bed by police sirens and helicopters on March 3, 1991, George Holliday grabbed his new Sony Handycam and, from the balcony of his Lake View Terrace apartment, recorded nine minutes of footage that included the King beating. The grainy video, first broadcast on KTLA-TV Channel 5, was soon transmitted to networks worldwide. According to published reports at the time, Holliday earned up to $100,000 for selling the use of the video to director Spike Lee for the movie "Malcolm X." Holliday contends, however, that his total income from the video was less than $10,000 from all sources. Now 41, the soft-spoken plumber lives in Granada Hills and is a divorced dad to a 4-year-old son.

*

It was just coincidence. Or luck. Luck can be good, luck can be bad. For Rodney King, it was good luck; for the cops, it was bad luck. For me, it was coincidence.

I didn't see the whole incident. When I first looked out of my window, [the beating] was not happening. I went back inside to get the camera and, by the time I got onto my balcony, the beating was going on. I don't know if [King] lunged at police. I'll never know . . . .

This guy Rodney King, personally I don't know him, but since the incident he was in the news for doing things that are wrong, and still he ends up being able to make all this money off the system [by winning a civil-rights-violation lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles]. I don't think that's right. I'm not talking about me personally, but there are lots of people who don't break laws and they are not compensated when something wrong happens to them.

The only time we really exchanged words was one night when I left work around 10 p.m., and I stopped at a gas station in North Hollywood. I'm walking back to my truck and this guy says, "Hey, George." I didn't recognize him. The only time I saw [King] was in the papers, with his face swollen from getting beat up. This guy was fine. He says, "You know who I am?" I said, "No." He says, "You saved my life." Then I knew. The thing is, I don't really know if I saved [King's] life. I don't think [the police] would have killed him. When I was younger, in Argentina, during the summertime on the beach with friends, I saved a life. But this, I don't think I saved his life.

I'm not going to make it a point to tell my son. One day he will come and ask me. I know that my name appears in the history books. To me, that's the coolest part of this whole thing. I'm sure he's going to read about it in school. Then I'll tell him. My name is also on a game card for Trivial Pursuit. They didn't spell it right. Every once in a while--now it's not that often--somebody will recognize me. "Aren't you the guy with the video?" But I don't go around telling people. It's like being a celebrity. But I don't go around with it on a T-shirt.

--As told to Kristina Sauerwein

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The Suspect

Barreling down the Foothill Freeway about midnight, Rodney G. King's speeding white 1988 Hyundai caught the attention of the California Highway Patrol. King, an unemployed construction worker on parole for a 1989 robbery, was forced to pull over in Lake View Terrace, where several Los Angeles police officers joined in on the stop. Ordered to the ground, King refused to be handcuffed by the officers, who kicked and beat him with their batons 56 times during the 81 seconds of the encounter that were videotaped by observer George Holliday. The multiple injuries King suffered in the early morning of March 3 included a battered cheek and eye socket, which his plastic surgeon said had been fractured like an eggshell. King, now 35, lives in Fontana. He says he does a bit of construction work but hasn't worked recently because of arthritis. His life since the beating, the subject of a 1999 profile in the magazine for which this photograph was taken, has been complicated by several brushes with the law, ranging from spousal abuse to driving with illegally tinted windows. His reflections on his legacy are dominated by bitterness over money: He feels his lawyers received more than the stipulated 25% of the $3.8-million judgment against the city of Los Angeles that he won in a civil-rights-violation lawsuit. He is suing one of his lawyers.

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It's a non-ending thing. I'm just disappointed in the court system. It's a fight, a struggle, especially for a black man. I'm in a fight, just like I was that day during the police beating. I'm fighting for what is already rightfully mine.

I wake up every day wishing it had never happened. I hate that it was me. I hate that it would be anybody at the center of attention like that. I wouldn't wish that on nobody. I have to turn it around, put it behind me, which is really hard.

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