We all saw the videotape of Rodney King getting beaten down, but most of what we know about the trial of the officers charged with that beating came through the mainstream media. To read about the trial is one thing, but to see it in The ”Rodney King” Case: What the Jury Saw in California v. Powell is altogether different. A case in point is the testimony of Officer Laurence Powell, the cop who struck King several dozen times with his metal baton. When you see the tape, it’s clear this guy was on the hot seat when he took the stand: He sweats bullets, looking as if he’s lying to keep himself and his boys from going up the river to the big house.
So why did the jury buy his story? To me, the fix was in when the California Appeals Court, in a nifty and slick change-of-venue move, agreed with the defense to transfer the trial from ”64 percent nonwhite” L.A. County (according to the tape) to lily-white, suburban Simi Valley. Once that was done, so was the outcome: You could have mailed in the verdict. The defense’s slo-mo deconstruction of the King tape wasn’t what changed the jury’s mind. Nothing changed the jury’s mind, because the jury saw what it wanted to see, and that’s the real meaning of this video’s title. Between the jury, the judge, and the prosecution, this trial was as carefully orchestrated as a World Wrestling Federation match. Vince McMahon would have been proud.
Watching The ”Rodney King” Case is frustrating not least because you keep wanting to see the jurors’ faces. Loaded down with legal experts, frame-by-frame analysis, and droning narration, this video drags, too. Even though the two-hour tape was culled from more than 150 hours of courtroom footage, it could have used additional cutting. Another thing that irks me is the filmmakers’ refusal to take a stand — they leave it up to the viewers to decide. I would prefer for them to have expressed an opinion. Later for objectivity.
One thing this video does make clear is that black chief prosecutor Terry White did an adequate job. It wasn’t his fault. But I kept wishing for him to get mad, be dramatic, get on those defense lawyers’ asses: The brother was too reserved. On the other hand, a white, blond, blue-eyed Jesus on the cross himself couldn’t have swayed that jury’s decision. Their minds were made up , about Rodney King a long time ago. The jury didn’t open their eyes. The jury didn’t open their minds. The jury was as guilty as Daryl ”Sieg Heil” Gates and Officers Powell, Koon, Wind, and Briseno. B