More than fifty people lost their lives in the three-day frenzy of violence. The main cause of furor was the belief that the police violence was racially-motivated and the ferocity of the attack would not have happened if Rodney King were white.
As unfortunate as the outcome was, the incident could be said to be a good learning tool in that it invites us to revisit the issue of police brutality and the question of whether or not such brutality by law enforcement officers made while in the line of duty actually result in effective law enforcement. And if it were so - i.e., if apprehension of criminals was actually more certain if the police engage in strong-arm tactics - is this enough reason to bend or relax human rights standards in the Constitution and in various human rights instruments
Legal systems in the civilized world - whether in civil or common law jurisdictions -- have, at least in theory, given primacy to the rights of the accused, understanding that ambiguity should be resolved in his or her favor. This, however, does not mean that one must let down his or her vigilance and stop guarding against possible infringement of constitutional guarantees by overzealous judges, particularly at a time when human rights advocacy for the accused has been made unpopular by the rising rate of crime. It used to be that the primacy of the State is the core principle of the international legal regime as it is traditionally known. This, however, has been challenged by the alarming rise of state-sponsored human rights violations that has prodded the community of nations to recognize that its more pressing duty is to protect the individual from systemic and institutional atrocity, even at the expense of its legal fictions. To quote from Hersch Lauterpacht, in his article International Law and Human Rights (1950, p. 70),
An international legal system which aims at effectively safeguarding human freedom in all its aspects is no longer an abstraction. It is as real as man's interest in the guarantee and the preservation of his inalienable rights as a rational and moral being. International law, which has excelled in punctilious insistence on the respect owed by one sovereign State to another, henceforth acknowledges the sovereignty of man. For fundamental human rights are superior to the law of the sovereign State.
This is the raison d'etre behind the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which entered into force in 1966. State parties were cognizant of the need to protect civil and political rights of citizens from possible encroachment by the state. The ICCPR explicitly declares: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." It is undeniable that this includes protection of citizens from agents of the state such as members of the police force.
And yet, we see how police officers routinely violate the human rights of those they apprehend. The implicit message is that these are criminals anyway - thugs, petty thieves, gangsters, punks, drug addicts, alcoholics - and they are doing society a favor by treating