Certain events galvanize the nation, drawing attention to wrongdoing, injustice or brutality.
Certain people are drawn unwillingly into the public spotlight, seemingly by chance, and become the center of attention whether they like it or not.
Such was the case with Rodney King, the motorist who, after leading police on a high-speech chase in March 1991, was beaten mercilessly by four Los Angeles police officers.
The officers struck Mr. King, then 25, more than 50 times with batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns. The victim, who was on parole for a robbery conviction, sustained 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.
The incident likely would have stayed local had a nearby resident not filmed it and turned the videotape over to a TV station. The image of the black driver curled on the ground as four white officers beat him became seared in the national consciousness as TV stations played it over and over.
The Rodney King saga became a symbol of police brutality and stirred racial tensions. When three officers were acquitted and a mistrial was declared for a fourth in April 1992, riots immediately followed in Los Angeles and lasted three days, killing 55 people, injuring more than 2,000 and causing $1 billion in damages.
Yet among the most memorable moments of these events was Mr. Kings gentle question amid the violence Can we all get along?
The four officers who beat Mr. King were indicted in the summer of 1992 on federal civil rights charges. Two were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, and Mr. King was awarded $3.8 million in damages.
Mr. King, who died last Sunday at 47, struggled in life, but he was willing to call for forgiveness and reconciliation even after his mistreatment. His ordeal led to changes in police policies in Los Angeles and elsewhere. These incidents caused Americans to reflect on their relationships with each other.
In retrospect, his question was profound: Can we all get along?