By Jerome H Skolnick
The now-famous videotape of the thrashing of Rodney King brought about a countrywide outcry opposed to police violence. Skolnick and Fyfe, of the nation's best specialists on legislation enforcement, use the incident to introduce a revealing historic research of such violence and the level of its survival in legislation enforcement this day.
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Extra resources for Above the Law. Police and the Excessive Use of Force
Were they as individuals beyond the pale of the moral understandings expressed by the Mayor, by the President, eventually by Chief Gates himself, and by virtually everyone else who saw the incident? Had they gone berserk? How about the cops who watched? Did they have defective personalities? Hardly. Two or three cops can go berserk. Maybe the cops who administered the beating were especially aggressive and insensitive. But when twenty-three others are watching and not interfering, the incident cannot be considered “aberrant,” as Chief Gates initially suggested.
America is, culturally speaking, two countries. One is urban, cosmopolitan, and multicultural. It suffers disproportionately from crime, gang violence, poverty, and homelessness. The other is suburban, relatively safe, relatively prosperous, and—most important—unicultural. Like Simi Valley, and the King trial jury, it is predominantly white and middle-class. The cops charged with assaulting Rodney King committed their crimes in the first America, but they were tried in the second. That they were was a failure of the local prosecutor, for reasons that remain obscure.
Juries are supposed to be representative of, and the conscience of, the community—the vicinage —where the crime occurred. ” But tragically, when venue is shifted, that does not necessarily happen. In the King trial, the Simi Valley jurors were miles away from the deaths, fires, and property damage that followed their verdict. It wasn’t simply that the jurors were white and Rodney King (and the courtroom prosecutor) was black. Joseph Kelner, a former president of both the American and New York State Trial Lawyers’ associations, and the author of an eight-volume work on litigation, analyzed the jury verdict for the New York Law Journal (May 26, 1992).