OPINION: Police brutality, 50 years later

This story is part of The Commonwealth Times’ special coverage in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Alexia Holloway, Contributing Writer

As she mourned the brutal death of her only son, Emmett Till, Mamie Till-Mobley garnered the strength to utilize the media to bring attention to the disrespect of black Americans everywhere. Throughout the civil rights movement, the powerful activists of the time employed media coverage to further their mission to bring equality to black Americans.

Photos of black people being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs surfaced, broadcasting to the world the inhumane treatment of the black community. This atrocious display to the country, and the world, forced Americans to come out of their ignorance and ask themselves: How can this country treat its own citizens with so much hate?

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was brutally beaten by a group of Los Angeles police officers, suffering more than 11 fractures. The video shows officers tasing and beating King on California State Route 210. It is brutal and disturbingly violent.

Despite the assault being caught on tape, the four officers shown in the video were not convicted: three were acquitted of using excessive force on King and the fourth received no conviction due to a hung jury. The verdict sparked outrage and widespread damage to Los Angeles in the infamous 1992 LA Riots.

While I understand that it is impossible for a relatively local and small publication like The Commonwealth Times to cover every world event, the lack of Rodney King and the LA Riots coverage by the CT was disappointing. The only pieces I could find that remotely covered this story were editorial pieces by staff writer Jim Meisner and editorial editor Rick Withers. Nevertheless, neither of the pieces name the Rodney King incident specifically.

Meisner writes about his typical apathetic reaction to many police brutality cases, which changed when he saw the frustration and pain in the LA riots. But because there were no specific stories about King or the riots, readers were most likely unaware of the extent of the situation. While I do not always agree with media’s emotionally manipulative tactics, showing raw factual images can cause change. Presenting images of black people being abused during the civil rights movement caused citizens to hold the U.S. accountable.

If reports of the incident had circulated around the campus, students could have begun having the tough conversation that comes with talking about how racism has emotionally and physically impacted black Americans. If The CT had covered the attack of Rodney King, it could have helped VCU students and Richmond citizens hold their local police officers accountable.

Nowadays, I do commend The CT for its coverage of race-related issues. The murder of Marcus-David Peters, a VCU alum, was an important story for The CT. Peters was a black man undergoing a mental health crisis who was shot and killed by black Richmond police officer Michael Nyantakyi.

This happened right here in Richmond, in our backyard, right on Interstate 95.

A video surfaced of Nyantakyi using his taser on Peters and after the taser failed to go off, he shot Peters twice.

The CT successfully spread the word of the murder in both the News and Opinions sections. Writers also contributed their views on the video and urged others to watch it.

The CT has covered the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, both instances of police brutality that catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement. The paper also covered the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The Commonwealth Times serves as the voice of a university that prides itself on diversity and inclusivity. Much of The CT’s reporting reflects a common consensus in our community, publishing stories that emphasize the evolving nature of our society. The CT’s cold silence concerning Rodney King shows a campus that perhaps was unaffected by the incident in the early ‘90s.

However, The CT’s consistent coverage of race issues, including those that occur on campus, reflects a socially aware campus that is willing to take the necessary steps to create a less racially charged community.

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