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Royko on the LAPD and Rodney King

Mike Royko on the LAPD and Rodney King

page last modified: 10/01/2013 01:59 PM

Ticket to Good Life Punched with Pain

Mike Royko ♦ Chicago Sun Times ♦ March 19, 1991

The police chief of Los Angeles is being widely condemned because of the now-famous videotaped flogging of a traffic offender.

But Chief Daryl Gates, while refusing to resign, suggests that the brutal beating might have been an uplifting act that could bring long-range positive results for the beating victim.

As the chief put it at a press conference Monday:

We regret what took place. I hope he [Rodney King, the beating victim] gets his life straightened out. Perhaps this will be the vehicle to move him down the road to a good life instead of the life he's been involved in for such a long time.

I hadn't thought of it that way, but there could be something in what Chief Gates says.

There's no doubt that King, 25, hasn't been an exemplary citizen, although he's no John Dillinger. When the police stopped him for speeding, he was on parole for using a tire iron to threaten and rob a grocer.

But as Chief Gates said, the experience of being beaten, kicked, and shot with an electric stun gun might be what it takes to move him down the road to a good life.

Who knows, in a few years when all of this is forgotten, a reporter might drive out to a nice house in a California suburb and find a peaceful Rodney King pushing a mower across his lawn.

The reporter might ask: Mr. King, what is it that moved you down the road to a good life?

Copyright notice: Excerpted from One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko by Mike Royko, published by the University of Chicago Press (c) 1999 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

That's a good question, Mr. King might reply, and I'll be glad to explain it to you. You'll have to excuse me if I wobble and drool a bit; my face has nerve damage and my coordination hasn't been the same since they damaged my brain.

Of course.

But to get back to your question. I think it was after L.A.'s finest hit me about fifty or fifty-five times with their clubs. As you recall, some of the fillings flew out of my teeth and one of my eye sockets sort of exploded.

Must have been a tad uncomfortable.

Yes. And at that point, I'm pretty sure that those nine skull fractures and internal injuries had already occurred, my cheekbone was fractured, one of my legs was broken, and I had this burning sensation from being zapped with that electric stun gun. I was feeling kind of low.

That's to be expected.

Right. But as I was lying there, and they were getting in a few final kicks, and then sort of hog-tying my hands to my legs and dragging me along the ground, I said to myself: 'Why not try to look at the bright side?'

And did you?

Yes. I thought: 'Well, one of my legs isn't broken; one of my eye sockets isn't fractured; one of my cheekbones isn't broken. And although my skull is fractured, my head remains attached to my body; and while fillings have popped out of my teeth, I still have the teeth.' And I said to myself: 'Half a body is better than none.'

Very inspiring.

Thank you. And I had a chance to think about why the police were treating me that way. It was their way of telling me that speeding is an act of antisocial behavior and I had been very bad, bad, bad.

You have unusual insight.

I try. And I thought that if only I had led the life of a model citizen, this wouldn't have happened to me. Let's face it. The L.A. police never fracture the skull of the president of the chamber of commerce, the chief antler in the Loyal Order of Moose, or the head of the PTA. No, it was my past history of antisocial behavior that brought it on.

But they had no way of knowing you were on parole.

Yes, but I'm sure they could guess just by the look of me. Be honest, I don't look at all like the head of the PTA, do I?


Then, later, when Police Chief Gates said that the beating, although regrettable, could be the vehicle that would get me on the road to the good life, everything became clear. I realized that the beating would turn my life around and be a one-way ticket to the good life.

The chief's words inspired you?

Not exactly. To be honest Chief Gates' words convinced me that he had to be as dumb an S.O.B. as ever opened his mouth at a press conference.

But you said he helped you to a good life.

That's right, he did.


When I took his police department to court, that jury awarded me a couple of million in damages, and I've been leading the good life ever since.

I don't think that's what the chief had in mind.

I don't think that chief had anything in mind. 

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