It was hard to believe that the infamous center of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Rodney King, is dead and that he was only 47. The acquittal of four white LAPD officers, charged with police brutality after pulling over King following an eight mile pursuit, sparked looting and violence that eventually left 55 dead, 2325 injured, 1573 buildings destroyed, and a total estimated cost of $1 billion dollars (AP Report, 4/26/12). While it seems like the police officers indeed used excessive force and two of them were charged with civil rights violations by a federal court, the man they pursued was neither innocent nor a moral bastion. King, famous for his plea during the riots–“Can we all get along?”–may have felt partially responsible knowing that he chose to drive drunk and evade police for fear of violating his parole on a theft conviction that had already earned him two years in jail. The twice-divorced King, engaged to a juror from his civil case against the city of Los Angeles, admitted not long before his death to still drinking and doing drugs “occasionally” (Jennifer Medina, NYTimes.com, 6/17/12). He spent most of his life after his brush with fame in and out of jail and rehab centers, including time spent in prison for assaulting his former wife and his daughter (ibid.). It all ended Sunday morning, June 17, 2012, when King was found dead in the pool he built behind the house he shared with the aforementioned Cynthia Kelly.
A man who seems to have been the victim of excessive force on an occasion that he could have avoided had he not driven drunk or reached speeds near 100 should vividly illustrate a basic truth for all of us. We cannot escape the consequences of our own character. King would not have been at the center of this controversy had he respected God’s Word and authority in His life. He shows how immoral choices lead to unforeseen consequences. The police and perceived prejudice were key to the riots, but King was culpable, too. It was his immoral choices that landed him in the middle of a situation godliness would have avoided (Rom. 13:3; 1 Pet. 3:17).
Suffering is an inevitability of life (Job 14:1). But, some suffering can be avoided if we will choose the better way. Solomon rightly declared, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful (KJV–“transgressors”) is hard” (Prov. 13:15). King could have left a better legacy, but such required better choices. May we be remembered as those who left a smoother path for others while being regarded as people of upright character.