Before Rodney King died, he was beaten. And eventually, as a result of this beating, the City of Angels beat and burned its own self up and down. But a few weeks after the beating and months before the L.A. riots, I sat next to Rodney King in a doctor's office.
I needed new glasses, so my grandmother sent me to her optometrist for an eye exam. I drove my Chevette Scooter to the doctor's office in Beverly Hills after school. I parked in the garage, and took an elevator up to any floor, and walked through a dimly lit hallway flanked by nondescript doors on either side, all leading to specialized medicines of the ear, nose, throat, eyes, and heart.
I checked myself in with the receptionist, took a seat with two other patients-in-waiting, and started to rifle through a boring stack of dated magazines. The door clicked open and a new patient hobbled in leaning heavily on a cane.
It was Rodney King.
I listened closely for confirmation that it was indeed Rodney King, but he did not say his name and the receptionist didn't extend a chirpy and generic greeting in return. The doctor's office was expecting him, and we all knew who it was. The whole wide world knew this man.
He wore a neck brace, his face was still raw, and one of his eyes was nearly swollen shut. Of course he needed to see an eye doctor. I only had finals to get ready for, but this dude needed a full medical evaluation.*
Exhibit A: LAPD beat the shit out of him.
Rodney sat down next to me. There were two other white adults in the room, but he went with the light skinned adolescent female; solidarity.
I rifled through my green Jansport backpack, and took out a notebook and pen. I wrote a letter to my best friend. Decades before the text message, recording my thoughts on paper was all I could do to capture this moment. It likely read:
i am at the eye doctors and you will never believe
who just sat down next to me!!!!! rodney king!
i guess he needs an eye exam too. good luck with
your finals. xo, coco
The camcorder footage of his victimization was a unique occurrence at the time, and it was the novelty of this kind of surveillance that made it possible for him to wait in the doctor's office with us as well.
*my grandmother said he was the best eye doctor in Beverly Hills, and I hazard to guess that Rodney King's defense team agreed with that assessment.