Police and the victim himself insist that a savage beating videotaped and aired on television screens around the world in all its ugliness wasn't racially motivated, but the black community isn't buying it.
Several branches of the NAACP marched on police headquarters Saturday to protest the beating of Rodney G. King, 25, a black man who on March 3 was shot with a Taser gun and kicked and bludgeoned by three white police officers as a dozen other officers looked on.Police Chief Daryl Gates during the week watched the videotape of the beating and counted the blows from the officers' batons. He said he counted between 53 and 56.
A crowd of 300 people marched back and forth Saturday in front of Parker Center, police headquarters, toting homemade placards and breaking into occasional chants of "Gates Must Go."
A dozen speakers addressing them called for everything from retraining police officers to be more racially sensitive to the resignation of Gates.
"When (police) see a criminal behind every black face . . . you must be dealt with and dealt with severely," said John Mack, president of Pasadena's chapter of the Urban League.
Leo Terrell, an NAACP attorney, said "When you have a police chief who says casual drug users should be shot, what kind of message does that send to the rank and file?"
State Sen. Diane Watson said she would introduce legislation to make it a crime for an officer to fail to intervene when he sees other police committing a crime.
"Let the people know, we will not stand by and let this go unnoticed," Watson said to the loud, boisterous crowd. "It's the worst kind of tyranny when they use their authority against citizens."
Inside the building, a dozen officers watched the protest in silence. None would comment.
The victim's doctor said King was beaten nearly to death, and would never be the same man again.
"He was pretty close to death. He could have died from this easily," Dr. Edmund Chein said during a news conference Friday. "It is a horrible, horrible, brutal beating. I don't think Saddam Hussein treated our POWs any worse than this."
King's lawyer, Steven Lerman, said he is only waiting for all the participants in the beating to be identified before filing a federal civil rights suit.
Everywhere, police found themselves on the defensive.
A plainclothes detective told the Los Angeles Times that he had attended a law enforcement gathering in Orange County and was treated as a "virtual leper."
"When we walked in, the other police officers - and they're from all over the country - said, `Well, here comes LAPD, somebody grab the video camera.'
"That hurt," the detective said. "That really hurt."