From Rodney King to Ferguson, police violence examined

Dr. Glenn Mitoma, an associate professor of Human Rights and Education, led a discussion on the subject of police violence in America. (Sam Mahmoud/The Daily Campus).

The names Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Michael Brown will always be known to this generation as the reference point in conversations about police violence. Back in 1991, however, that name was Rodney King, according to a discussion at the Konover auditorium Wednesday night.

Dr. Glenn Mitoma, an assistant professor of Human Rights and Education and the director of the Dodd Center, led the discussion and showed videos of police violence. Though it has been more than 20 years, the Rodney King beating in 1991 that led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots is still relevant to the conversation about police violence in our society today as well as the sidewalk take down of Eric Garner and the shootings of Michael Brown and Walter Scott.

After each video, Dr. Mitoma engaged students and faculty, gauging their reactions and observations about what was seen in each video. Students and faculty were very responsive, breaking down each video objectively and sharing many perspectives as to what was seen.

“I wanted those who attended to think critically and in-depth about what these videos tell us about police violence and move past gut reactions and towards how the videos can help us solve the problem,” Dr. Mitoma said.

Comparing the Rodney King video against the other three videos, there was a visible difference in the audience reception, the main difference in video itself being that King was not killed. King was not shot. These differences elicited mixed reactions and the conversation progressed from there for the rest of the evening.

Interesting, too, is the dynamic in which the King video existed, because back in 1991, video cameras were not as widespread or as accessible. There were no smartphones, making one wonder how the case of Rodney King could have been different without the video.

“I thought the lecture was shocking and enlightening because I have seen the headlines but not the videos,” Lauren Fuchs, an undeclared first semester student, said.

In addition to the videos, an 11 minute documentary was shown.  The documentary was about the Papo Reto Collective, a group of individuals based in the Rio de Janeiro favelas.  The goal of the collective is to record the police occupation in the favelas today, which is a government backed occupation program called The Urban Pacification Initiative.

In that 11 minutes, it was presented that the police know they are being recorded from everywhere and it has altered how they carry themselves and engage in violent actions in the streets. According to the documentary, the footage from the collective has now gained mainstream Brazilian media attention, giving the country a look into what is really happening in the favelas where there isn’t surveillance like in the U.S. It was strangely reminiscent of how television changed how we saw Vietnam.

With the Olympics on its way to Rio, the issues that the collective is combatting may very well make its way onto the global media stage. From there, one can only hope and wonder about how the conversation may change with that level of exposure.

Students expressed their shock at the presentation, but also explained that they liked the balanced, human rights approach that the lecture took.

“It was shocking…but I liked the lecture because it wasn’t accusatory towards officers and could approach this issue from a human rights perspective to help the community better,” Natalie Anderson, a first semester pathobiology major, said. 


Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.