Without question, the senseless brutalization of Rodney King at the hands of Los Angeles police officers cannot be condoned. There is no place in civilized society for this kind of depraved and violent behavior, especially on the part of those entrusted with the sacred duty of safeguarding the public.
The hideousness of the incident was further aggravated by the failure of police officers not participating in the beating to intercede and end the senselessness.The nationwide broadcast of a homemade video of the beating has thrust the issue of police brutality into the national limelight. Government officials are scrambling to address the issue and hopefully develop strategies to ensure this kind of behavior is not repeated in the future.
That is good.
But officials also need to make sure the thousands of good police officers around the nation do not receive an undeserved black eye from this ugly incident.
Allowing the reputation and honor of these self-sacrificing officers to be tarnished by the actions of a few "bad apples" would be grossly unfair.
Justice not only warrants government reaction to the King incident, it demands that those responsible be held accountable. Justice also demands that this reaction not be of the "knee-jerk" variety.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh has ordered a nationwide investigation into every one of the 15,000 police brutality complaints filed with the federal government over the past six years.
The intent of the order - to determine if those complaints reveal a pattern of misconduct on the part of police - sounds honorable. In reality it may be a case of overkill.
After all, only 2 percent of the 2,500 complaints received monthly by the Justice Department eventually are referred to federal grand juries.
A companion order intended to determine if there is any correlation between reported incidents of police brutality and the presence or absence of police department training programs intended to deter brutality makes much more sense and should be actively pursued.
The public has a right to demand that government officials look closely at this issue and take aggressive action to assure that police brutality does not occur.
That same right carries with it a responsibility to see that innocent police officers are not condemned for the actions of others.