George Holliday, the plumber who took a video of Los Angeles police officers beating Black motorist Rodney King in 1991, passed away on Sunday at a California hospital due to complications caused by COVID-19, a friend said.
Holliday’s video showed how the power of citizen journalism can help expose police brutality and racial injustice. Holliday was a bystander who documented that critical moment that might otherwise be kept unknown had he not filmed.
Holliday, 61, was admitted at a Los Angeles hospital due to COVID for more than a month and died on Sunday, according to his friend, Robert Wollenweber, on Monday. TMZ was the first to report his death.
Holliday was not vaccinated and was on a ventilator in recent days after contracting pneumonia, Wollenweber added.
Rodney King, the victim in Holliday’s video, became the symbol against the use of excessive force against a minority by the police, even before the Black Lives Matter movement. The then 25-year-old King was beaten by a group of police officers after a traffic stop near Holliday’s home in San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles in March 1991.
Holliday, who was awakened by the noise, took his newly purchased camera and filmed the officers punching, kicking and using a stun gun on King.
Holliday’s video of the incident, shot in grainy black and white, was played on hundreds of television stations. A 6-day riot in Los Angeles arose when the four LA police officers were acquitted by a jury in 1992. It caused the death of more than 50 people and a damage of approximately $1 billion.
However, the four officers were then prosecuted later of the same year on federal civil rights charges. Two officers were found guilty and had to serve two years in prison. A $3.8 million worth of damages was awarded to King, who passed away years later, 2012 at the age of 47.
The death of the African-American George Floyd, due to a police officer kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes, caused King’s video to resurface in 2020. The Floyd killing was similarly captured by a bystander and sparked protests against racism and police brutality nationwide and across the world.
Holliday was filming the police beating of King from his balcony on March 3, 1991, using his new Sony Video8 Handycam, which he later auctioned. Holliday rang the police station to know what happened but they refused to give information so he reached out to the KTLA news station instead.
King led a high-speed chase from the police in Los Angeles despite being on parole for robbery. He was also charged later with driving under the influence, according to NPR.
When finally stopped by the police, King was asked to come out of his car. He was then kicked repeatedly by the Los Angeles Police Department and was beaten by their batons. Several other policemen stood by watching the beating as seen on Holliday’s video.
King suffered serious injuries from the beating including skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage, NPR reported.