This week marks 25 years since the nation watched Los Angeles effectively go up in flames as a wave of violence and lawlessness shut down portions of the city. There were more than 2,000 injuries along with massive property destruction adding up to the billions. That’s why it’s rather curious that the LA Times chooses to provide something of a sympathetic or even apologist retrospective this week, complete with interviews with “activists” who want the spirit of Rodney King to know that he’s “not forgotten.”
“Rodney King and Latasha Harlins and many social ills that was going on at the time brought April 29, 1992, about,” Denise Harlins said.
Najee Ali, who organized the small vigil, said the prayerful gathering was meant to show unity.
“We are here for all the victims,” Ali said. “We are here today to say you are not forgotten.”
But the memory of the riots remains a point of division. Some recall when columns of smoke filled the sky during days of insurgent anarchy and a breakdown of order.
Others eschew the term “riot” and call it an uprising or rebellion, emphasizing the deep sense of injustice that powered a raging and destructive mob.
For many, Rodney King embodied that sense of injustice, particularly at the hands of law enforcement.
The entire article is filled with sentiments such as these. The focus is on what happened to Rodney King at the hands of the police, as well as Latasha Harlins, the 15 year old black girl who was shot by a panicked Korean shopkeeper during the height of the looting. (And a credible case can be made that she wasn’t “looting” anything. The shopkeeper was later convicted of manslaughter but given a very light sentence shortly before the trial of the police officers concluded and the subsequent riots.) But there is little acknowledgement of the abject horror of the riots themselves and precisely how badly the fabric of civilization was torn up that week.
There are grounds to complain about the treatment King received on the night he was pulled over, though the short film clip of him being beaten with batons was widely viewed as lacking in context. It was still a fairly brutal beating. But those who had access to all of the testimony in the trial (including the jurors) and the evidence presented knew another side of the story. The New NY Daily News has recounted it many times. Read it at the link for yourself, but the general consensus among many was that King instigated the event himself and could have stopped it at any time.
But none of that is really the point here. The LA Times quotes at least one individual who feels that it’s “understandable” how the riots happen given the “context” of Rodney King and Latisha Harlins. No. It is not.
No matter the severity of King’s injuries or the tragedy of that child’s death, it’s not “understandable” that Reginald Denny, someone with zero relationship to the events of King’s arrest, was dragged from his truck and beaten within an inch of his life. It’s not “understandable” that small businesses owned by individuals crossing all racial, religious and gender lines were looted. It’s not “understandable” that the city was set afire causing billions of dollars in damage. And most of all it’s not “understandable” that law enforcement was essentially chased out of an entire section of a major metropolitan center and hoards of violent mobs were set loose to unleash mayhem.
The thin fabric of civilization broke down that week. The rule of law was shattered and what was left in its wake was anarchy. It was mob rule, something which has never boded well for humanity throughout all of hour history. If we were to take any lesson away from the Los Angeles riots 25 years later it should be that our civilization rests on a knife edge where only a thin blue line stands between the peaceful, ordered society the American experiments depends on and the type of chaos which could collapse the entire thing.
And none of what happened then is “understandable” no matter what context you care to invoke.