Hold on to something heavy, America. You're in for a shocker. It's been 20 years since Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles cops, and the grainy handheld video footage was released to the world. Twenty years since one nine-minute video made us all paranoid of being the next network TV "star."
Twenty years! I'm not even going to tell you how old I was then. But I will tell you video cameras were these bulky behemoths, pulled out only for the school concerts and Christmas morning. Like the officers captured beating Rodney King senseless, most people were still content in doing whatever they heck they wanted in public 20 years ago. We were safe. Because carrying a video camera or even a still camera everywhere you went was out of the question. Today, most of us wouldn't be caught outside of the house without one.
Today's world is in many ways the polar opposite of Rodney King's world. Police departments have mounted their own cameras on squad cars and in some cases officers' bodies to counteract the amateur footage captured on the cell phone of passersby.
I have two cameras at all times -- my iPod and my cell phone. And then there's my "real" camera, my SLR. Plus we have the Flip cam, the tiny little camera for the concerts and recitals. The latter two I don't carry daily, but the fact of the matter is in 2011, I have four different means of capturing images at my fingertips, in my home. Twenty years ago, families either had a video camera or a still camera, rarely both, never four.
It should make us feel safer. How can there be another Rodney King, another senseless beating in public, when there are cameras everywhere? When it will end up on YouTube within minutes (forget the 24-hour news cycle it took to get the King video out there)? There is a certain comfort in that, an awareness that people scared to "get involved" to help are still eager to whip out their cell phones and create court-usable evidence.
But it's also made us paranoid. Everyone is on high alert of what someone has in their pocket. Everyone. I stood in Tommy Hilfiger last week watching a guy shoot an image of a shirt in the kids' section, only to have a store employee tap him on the arm. "Sir, you can't do that."
"Can't do what?" he asked, confused. He hadn't hurt the shirt, or tried to steal it, or even taken photos of anything BUT the shirt. I certainly wasn't bothered as I poked through the racks. He was taking a photo to send to someone else, to ensure that he was picking up the right item for the child. And yet the store employee told him no pictures were allowed inside the store. None. Not even one that would probably have ensured an extra sale for the Tommy Hilfiger store that day if the kid's mom had liked the shirt. What were they so scared of? Who knows. Today, everyone's scared of a photo getting leaked, no matter how innocuous.
The horrors that Rodney King underwent woke Americans up to our role in helping bring criminals to justice, woke us up to the fact that no one is above the law, and we all have some power and responsibility to help a fellow man. That incident did a lot of good for our country. It also made us power hungry. It set us up for nursing students uploading Facebook pictures of a patient's placenta without her permission, for anyone with a cell phone camera snapping a pic of a celeb's 5-year-old on the street corner with her scooter and selling it for mega bucks.
Nothing is private in today's America. Nothing.
Do you remember watching the Rodney King video? Are you wary of people with cameras and video equipment these days?
Image via Getty Images/J. Emilio Flores