Nearly three decades after the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers was caught on tape, echoes of the past are resurfacing in the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the ensuing protests and marches across the country and around the globe.
For Cal Poly Pomona Political Science Professor Renford Reese, who served as a mentor to King from 1997 to 2000, the current situation is a critical opportunity to hear from formerly incarcerated men and discuss solutions and problems in policing.
“We’re 28 years removed from Rodney King. We just experienced something absolutely horrible, absolutely brutal,” said Reese, who oversees Project Rebound, a program for formerly incarcerated students. “What we have seen with George Floyd has galvanized a new generation of activists. What we have is the question have things changed? The more things change, the more things stay the same. What I say about change in the United States is that it seems to be the illusion of change.”
In the late 90s, Reese taught King how to swing a golf club, worked out with him and invited him to speak to one of his classes. When Reese heard about Floyd, he put together a documentary titled “Is America a Myth?” interviewing six formerly incarcerated men and explored whether the American Dream includes people of color.
The documentary features Mario Quintana, a psychology student at Cal Poly Pomona, who was released from prison in 2017 after serving 20 years. Quintana shares how he was often stopped and pulled over growing up in his East Los Angeles neighborhood. Blacks and Latinos often have a presumption of guilt when they get stopped or pulled over, Quintana said.
“Growing up, for years I have seen George Floyd incidents happen over and over again,” he said. “Fortunately, I am alive, but I have been the victim of the same type of treatment just because of my color, where I live, where I grew up. Everybody was guilty of something.”