The death of Rodney Glen King this weekend brought to an end an era that defined modern Los Angeles and affected any person who lived through it. It was, of course, King's beating at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers in 1991 that plunged the city into a wrenching debate over police brutality and racism. When the officers who pummeled King were acquitted on all but one charge the following year, the city responded with devastating riots, and King memorably pleaded for calm, begging residents to "get along."
King was one of four iconic figures from that episode, and all four are now dead. Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley were twin towers of the era, their distaste for each other helping to shape its politics. In the year between King's beating and the riots, the two barely spoke, and their alienation helped ensure that the city was not ready for the violence that erupted on April 29, 1992. Subsequent chiefs and mayors have learned the lesson of that feud. Though they have not always appreciated each other, no mayor or chief since has put the city at risk the way those two stubborn leaders — the irascible Gates and the by-then-fading Bradley — did.