Sometimes. I said the right thing for what I believe in. [My lawyers] wrote a script for me, but I wasn't reading that crap. When I was coming up, we went to the Kingdom Hall [of Jehovah's Witnesses] and we'd be around Indians and Chinese, white people, Mexicans, you name it; we all was working together. So I couldn't understand why, after church was over, things was so different. That's where you get that "can we all just get along" speech out of me.
And the video of the beating — does it seem now like watching someone else?
No, because I remember the pain.
Where were you going when you tried to get up and run away?
I was trying to split into the park. My daddy used to take us there when we were kids. I didn't know my ankle was broke. When I went up, I put my hands up — like this [he raises his hands from his lap] — so I wouldn't look like I'm a threat. I knew death was going to come. As a black man, you run from the cops. It's different now, but back when I was coming up, you run.
You were driving drunk and speeding when the Highway Patrol first tried to pull you over, but a lot of people doubted that a Hyundai could go as fast as police said. So, how fast were you going?
It was easy 100, might have been 105.
You testified at the federal civil right trial but not at the Simi Valley Superior Court trial that originally resulted in acquittals. Do you think it would have made a difference in the outcome in Simi Valley if you had testified?
I'm in Orange County, at this hotel where my lawyer put me. It was so frustrating for me to watch her speaking on my case like that. I wanted to be there, but I couldn't – the lawyers wouldn't let me. To be honest with you, I don't really know if I would have made that much of a difference. It was uncharted territory, a case like mine. But I wanted to.
The riots began after the officers' acquittal. You said in the book that you could understand a couple of hours of protest but not days of violence.
It got so scary. It felt almost like we were headed to Armageddon. Everybody had their own reasons. It wasn't just police brutality. It was the way people were being treated over the years. People were [telling me to] say nothing, or go out there and say, "Burn it up," but I was, like, no, that's not how I was raised. It was a bad time, a combination of everything — race relations, police brutality, poverty. I was born [the year of] the Watts riots. This made me realize what people was going through back in the '60s. I thought God had turned his clock back.
You put on a disguise and started to head to Florence and Normandie.
I got halfway there and started seeing the smoke and thought no, I can't. I saw [Reginald Denny being attacked on television] and said to myself, this man works just as hard as I do. I do construction, and he's a truck driver.
Your name is recognized around the country. Some people think it symbolizes a ne'er-do-well. Some people think of it as a civil rights rallying cry. Are you up for that role?
You don't want to let anybody's expectations down. People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble, and don't do this and don't do that. But it's hard to live up to some people's expectations, which [I] wasn't cut out to be. I didn't go to school to be "Rodney King" and [be] beat up by cops and thrust into the limelight. It's taken years to get used to the situation I'm in in life and the weight it holds. One of the cops in the jail [in a later encounter] said: You know what? People are going to know who you are when you're dead and gone. A hundred years from now, people still going to be talking about you. It's scary, but at the same time it's a blessing.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. Morrison's conversation with King will continue at the L.A. Times Festival of Books Saturday, 12:30 p.m.