March 3rd, 1991

LAPD Officers Caught on Tape Beating Rodney King

In the pre-dawn hours of March 3, 1991, California Highway Patrol officers in Los Angeles, California, attempted to pull over a driver for speeding. The driver, a 26-year-old black man named Rodney King, tried to evade the officers to avoid arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol but was stopped by several police cars after a brief high-speed pursuit.

Mr. King exited the car and Los Angeles Police Department officers used physical force and tasers to force him to the ground. Instead of arresting him, the officers continued to kick and beat him with wooden batons, causing severe injuries. Officers then restrained his arms and legs and dragged him to the side of the road to await emergency medical treatment. Mr. King suffered a fractured facial bone, broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations.

Nearby resident George Holliday was awakened by the beating and, from the window of his apartment, filmed the violent encounter using a personal video camera. He contacted police but received little information about what he had witnessed and decided to take the footage to the media. Local KTLA News broadcast the video in its entirety, creating a sensation and making police brutality a national issue. The incident, which might have been forgotten and ignored if not for the video evidence, would result in both civil and criminal trials and a period of city-wide violent unrest.


March 3rd, 1819

Congress Creates Fund for “Civilization” of Indian Tribes

On March 3, 1819, the United States Congress enacted the Civilization Fund Act, authorizing the President, “in every case where he shall judge improvement in the habits and condition of such Indians practicable” to “employ capable persons of good moral character” to introduce to any tribe adjoining a frontier settlement the “arts of civilization.”

With a budget of $10,000 per year, missionaries and church leaders partnering with the federal government would establish schools in Indian territories to teach Native children to replace tribal practices with Christian practices. In 1824, the federal government established the Bureau of Indian Affairs to oversee the fund and implement programs to “civilize” the Native people.

In the following years, as the United States systematically removed tribes from their homelands to land west of the Mississippi River, the United States turned to policies purportedly aimed at achieving “the great work of regenerating the Indian race.”

According to Indian Commissioner Luke Lea, it was “indispensably necessary that they be placed in positions where they can be controlled, and finally compelled by stern necessity...until such time as their general improvement and good conduct may supersede the necessity of such restrictions.” Over the ensuing decades, the United States’ orientation to Native peoples changed from adversarial to paternalistic.