Archives for: May 2012, 30
It was a time of tension. The Rodney King beating was followed by the exoneration of the police officers on almost all charges by an all white jury. They were hung up on one minor charge. It was an amazing verdict. Didn't they see the videotape of the beating?
South Central Los Angeles exploded in reaction. By the time the National Guard restored order, over 50 people had died in the violence. In a deranged sort of irony, the beating and near death of a truck driver, Reginald Denny, was also caught on tape. The perpetrators were easily identified. A civilian saw the violence on television, rushed into the mob and rescued Denny. Another victim, Fidel Lopez, was beaten nearly to death before Reverend Bennie Newton arrived and made of himself a protective shield. He screamed at the attackers, "Kill him and you have to kill me, too." That attempted murder was also caught on tape.
The perpetrators ended up convicted of misdemeanor assault and a single felony count of mayhem. The jury was deadlocked on the more serious charges. One juror later explained that the would be murderers had only been carried away by a mob mentality. That represented a novel legal mitigation.
After the O.J. Simpson verdict a couple of years later, one critic made the logical observation about justice in greater Los Angeles. Renegade police officers, rioters attempting murder, OJ Simpson, evidence didn't seem to matter. "The good news is they caught Hitler. The bad news is he'll be tried in Los Angeles."
Some Democrats expressed sympathy for the root conditions that had motivated the rioting.
President Bush, the first one, had it about right: He expressed frustration with the verdicts that let off the four police officers and condemned the rioting. "...we simply cannot condone violence as a way of changing the system."
A young singer in the relatively new genre of rap was asked whether the violence had represented wisdom. Sister Souljah replied:
Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I'm saying? In other words, white people, this government, and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence.
So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person? Do you think that somebody thinks that white people are better, or above and beyond dying, when they would kill their own kind?
A candidate for President, Governor Bill Clinton, was asked by the Reverend Jesse Jackson to speak at a gathering. A panel discussion involved a young rapper, and what has become known as the Sister Souljah moment came to be. Clinton chided the rapper, scolding her directly. One sentence summarized his stern message:
If you took the words "white" and "black," and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.
His stinging words angered Sister Souljah and Reverend Jackson. Both insisted she had been quoted out of context, that she had merely discussed the mentality of those who had gone the path of violence. The Reverend and his young guest were correct to a point. She had indeed referred to rioters and what they had to have been thinking.
But her tone had been one of approval. The very first response was "Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I'm saying?" What followed was elaboration. And yeah, we understood her with an acute degree of precision.
Later public figures have had less contentious moments, but they were moments none-the-less. Four years ago, Barack Obama had several involving Jeremiah Wright. And certainly John McCain had a milder, still unmistakable, moment, gently correcting a supporter. "He's a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about."
We can speculate about the degree of calculation that went into each incident. In the end, motives are never completely knowable. Even our own reasons are not always known to ourselves. But Clinton, Obama, and McCain each did what was right. I like to think that was reason enough. In any event, some portion of character was shown, some willingness to do what was uncomfortable but right.
A defender of Mitt Romney, conservative Michael Medved, was on MSNBC last evening. He insists that the Governor has met his own test of character, even while embracing birthers, rock stars of old who wish violence on the President, and audience participants who wish the President to face trial for treason. You see, later, at a safe distance, Governor Romney expresses confidence that the President is an American and even acknowledges that he should not be brought up on charges. His boldness in the face of extremism was expressed earlier this week:
I don’t agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus is asked, Can the eye see itself? He answers "the eye sees not itself but by reflection..." His very flawed friend offers to be his mirror.
In the ordinary press of events, we are occasionally offered a brief glance at some part of a candidate's character. We have glimpsed Mitt Romney's mirror and have, as yet, seen no reflection. In that dark glass we have been shown only a faint shimmering of transparent timidity. It is enclosed by an empty suit.