March 1991 image of Rodney King beating.

From the Archives: Campus Responds to Rodney King Beating Acquittal

Friday, May 5, 2017

After two days of rioting in Los Angeles in response to the Rodney King beating verdict —and a night of unrest in San Francisco in which a curfew and local state of emergency was declared by Mayor Frank Jordan —members of the campus community voiced their reactions at a standing-room only meeting in Cole Hall on Frida, May 1, 1992.

The open-mike forum, which was orderly and calm, was moderated by Joe Mattox, director of Faculty, Staff and Student Assistance Programs.

When Mattox asked, “How many people are mad about what happened?” virtually the entire audience — estimated to be 70% white, 25% black and 5% Asian —raised their hands.

Members of the audience were invited to the mike to express their thoughts or feelings. What follows is some of what they said. (Speakers did not identify themselves.)

“I don’t condone the violence, but I think those people felt it was the only way to be heard.”

“I thought I was going to explode yesterday. It goes a lot deeper than Rodney King. When you’re backed up against the wall and feel you ha ye no stake in the world, your actions aren’t very rational.”

“This reminds me of Iran. I hate to see this happen to this great country.”

“The myth is destroyed — and the myth is there’s democracy here and there’s justice here.”

“People don’t listen to you when you speak nicely... Out of this violence, maybe there will be some consolidation for change. We are living in a reactionary time in this nation. You talk about voting. But (here’s no vote when the choice is between tweedledum and tweedledee.”

“Four cops caused all this.”

“I’m mad at people on the jury who can see the brutality and say racism had nothing to do with it.”

“I’m a first-year grad student, (choked up) I’ve been studying like mad. I only heard about the King beating yesterday (audience laughter). What could be going on in those jurors’ heads?”

“I’m scared. I consider Rodney King my brother. That could have been me out there.”

“People in Central LA, all they’ve seen all their lives is violence. So that’s what they give back.”

“I challenge every white person to look at their own racism.”

“In the last decade, our country has moved away from U.S. ideals.”

“I was in Tiananmen Square at the time of the protests and I said to myself ‘That could never happen here.’ Last night I was on the phone with someone in Hong Kong and he said, ‘I’m glad I’m not in San Francisco.’”

“This is a consequence of 12 years of Reagan and Bush. We have to come out of this selfishness, out of this social anesthesia we’re in. We have to decide for our humanity.”

“This country doesn’t love and respect black boys! We’re not one nation under God — we’re two separate countries, one black and one white.”

Vigil in Saunder’s Court A gathering to protest the King verdict was held in Saunders Court on the afternoon of Friday, May 2. Several hundred students, staff and faculty members were there to express their anger and dismay.

The protest was organized by Michelle Miller, Department of Physiology, and inspired by her mother —a nursing student at UCSF in the ‘60s who participated in a sit-in after four anti-war demonstrators were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State.

“Even though we are not Berkeley, we can make ourselves heard,” Miller declared.

Dr. Andrew Murray, Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry, and UCSF Police Chief, Ron Nelson, expressed their disgust at the ruling and implored the audience to become more politically involved in order to prevent future injustices.

A petition was also circulated asking for an immediate investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Department; making the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department an elected position; and investigating the role of outgoing chief Daryl Gates in the King case.

In addition to the consternation and rage experienced by many members of the campus community, UCSF felt the impact of the turmoil when the library was closed early on the night of Thursday, April 30, in compliance with the curfew imposed by Mayor Jordan. Cole Hall Cinema canceled its showing of “Bugsy” and the Millberry Fitness Center closed early Thursday and Friday.

The student-run clinic in the shelter for the homeless at Bryant Street was shut down early Thursday and Friday due to the protests downtown. The ASUC Health Fair scheduled for Saturday, May 2, in connection with Cinco dc Mayo festivities at Civic Center Plaza, was canceled.

UCSF Police officers were more visible than usual in the days following the verdict, walking the halls of Moffitt and Long hospitals.

Two young black male high school students and a white female companion were detained in front of Millberry Union Friday afternoon after UCSFs vigil for Rodney King. The teenagers drove around the campus several times, waving a toy gun.

A member of the campus community alerted the police, unaware the gun wasn’t real. One of the teens stood in the middle of Parnassus Aye., taunting the police, “Here I am, come and get me.”

The SFPD and the campus police pulled up. The police got out of their car, drew their guns and ordered the students out of the car and to the ground and handcuffed them. They were released after a search showed them to be unarmed.