Viewers grown accustomed to grainy, black and white videotapes of allied bombs blowing up Iraqi bunkers during the gulf war must have thought the conflict had been transplanted into their own backyards this week when the networks broadcast a graphic home video depicting the prolonged, violent beating of a young black man by nightstick-wielding Los Angeles police as he lay handcuffed on the pavement.
The sickening scene was recorded early Sunday by an amateur video photographer awakened by the sound of sirens and police helicopters overhead. The tape shows police shocking 25-year-old Rodney King with a stun gun, then clubbing him at least 40 times with nightsticks, stomping on his head and kicking him.
The official police account claimed King was resisting arrest after leading officers on a high-speed chase, but witnesses disputed that version of what happened. One said King was pleading for the beating to stop while the officers "were all laughing and chuckling like they just had a party."
The incident has reinforced charges that Los Angeles police routinely employ brutality in dealing with minorities. Sunday's scene more resembled police tactics in South Africa than in America. Yet civil liberties groups in Los Angeles say what happened was not at all unusual. Had the camera not been there, King would probably be still in jail and more than likely would have been convicted of resisting arrest.
A grainy home video exposed this perversion of justice for the world to see. It is a vision that ought to give Americans pause to reflect on why, with the war in the gulf now over, there is a war at home that's yet to be won.