Saturday night fervor.

I caught the last 10 minutes or so of the CNN special “Race and Rage: the Beating of Rodney King” tonight.

I knew the 20th anniversary of the beating was this week; I think I found out when the tiny TV in the elevator up to the office where temping displayed the headline that Rodney King had been cited that day for driving without a valid license.

I had a little chuckle about it. “Stay classy, Rodney King,” I said, under my breath, to the tiny TV and the stale elevator air.

I wasn’t even 8 years old when the beating happened. And even if I had been old enough to understand, I’m sure the news outlets in Kansas City weren’t giving the situation in Los Angeles much television coverage. So I lived in my little childhood bubble and missed everything: the beating, the trial, the acquittal, the riots.

As I grew older, I learned a man named Rodney King had been beaten in Los Angeles, but that’s about all I knew.

Ignorance was kind of my thing for a really long time. I couldn’t be curious about something completely unknown to me, and there was no one to tell me I should be curious. Or care. It’s funny: We don’t know what we don’t know. In the way that completely not-funny things are funny. I’m still shaking off that ignorance.

The special closed with a short interview with Rodney King, a sweet — if not a bit more than star-crossed — man in his mid-40s. (He’s had many run-ins with the law since he first entered the spotlight in the early ’90s, from domestic disputes to substance abuse.) The interviewer asked whether he’d forgiven the policemen who beat him, and he said he had. Of course he had.

He’s been given so many breaks in his life, he said, and everyone deserves a break. At least he didn’t die.

And I thought…wow.


For all his missteps, this is a man with a truly good heart.

Because I finally got curious tonight and skimmed the Wikipedia article about the beating, the trial, the acquittal and the riots. I watched one of the many YouTube videos of the beating. Then I watched news stories following the acquittal, where one juror said she believed the officers had used “reasonable force” that night and that Rodney King could have been spared his fate if he’d just surrendered. And I watched footage of the riots: the city engulfed in flames, citizens turned against one another, National Guardsmen in Humvees rolling in on deserted streets.

And I was enraged.

This is America.

Not was — is.

Rodney King was an idiot for flooring it when he should just have pulled over when he was caught speeding, but I have to wonder whether he’d have been flagged down at all if he’d been white.

And things like this just. keep. happening.

To people who haven’t even been speeding. Or done anything wrong. Prejudice and profiling and hatred and inequality based on nothing but a simple word or two: black, immigrant, gay, female, disabled.

And so much of this stems from people with two words in common: white male. The one group of Americans that has never, ever known discrimination.

And that? Is gross.

I know this is all just coming out as ignorant white-girl ranting, because that’s all it really is. I haven’t studied this; I haven’t really experienced it in person. (Though Fred Phelps did bring his Westboro Baptist Church congregants to protest a Barenaked Ladies concert when I was in high school. Go figure on that one.)

But even if it’s not on the order of Rodney King or Matthew Shepard or George Tiller or another story that makes the evening news for days at a time, all of today’s tiny injustices add up to one big mess.

The Tea Party?

They should be collectively boxed up in a dusty antique shop somewhere in the Bible Belt, but somehow they’re actually out there. Gaining power. Representing everything that absolutely terrifies me about America.

That Rally to Restore Sanity? It’s not just the fact that it was emceed by comedians that made it a joke. I mean, they’re right: Shit’s gone completely insane. But two white guys on stage with a sea of privileged white kids cheering them on is not the answer.

That being said, a riot didn’t fix things back in the ’90s, and it won’t fix things if it happens again. I really don’t know what will. But I hope I live to see it change, and I hope I’m part of it. Sitting around getting mad at the TV isn’t enough — but at least it means I finally know enough to care.


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8 Responses to “Saturday night fervor.”

  1. Brian D Says:

    I’m older than you so I remember it differently. I was mad when it happened, embarrassed too…Do I think he deserved it, absolutely not. If you, are able to, remove race from the equation, no person should ever be treated that way.

    WBC, TeaParty to me do nothing more than stir the pot or muddy the water, which I think serves no real purpose at all, other than to, MAYBE further their own cause.

    The Rally to Restore Sanity…it was funny, and you’re right, THEY were right…but what does it say when 2 comedians are the voice of reason?? I guess that’s to be expected when a good percentage of people admit that their only exposure to the news is The Daily Show and/or the Colbert Report.

    I guess the first step, sometimes the hardest step, is to recognize that there is actually a problem, and to actually care enough about it. But now what do we do??

    • paigeworthy Says:

      After I posted this, it occurred to me that…you also have to remember
      how many people out there actually are working and fighting to fix this.
      Not just writing whiny posts like I am.

      Hope is really, really important — but also really difficult to maintain

      Before I gave up on network and changed to CNN (yeah, that’s a real step
      up) I watched a few minute’s of Harry’s Law and some ridiculous story
      line about witch doctors dismembering African albinos? And one of the
      lawyers was all, “I can’t even make eye contact with them, because I’m
      overcome by the futility of what we’re doing here.”

      It’s kind of like that.

      I guess.

      Only we have all our arms and legs.

    • paigeworthy Says:

      Also: I just found out that ridiculous storyline is actually RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.

  2. wardell latham Says:

    I think we all have to “be the change”, and use what ever tools we have to educate others, and promote social justice, rather it be a comedic rally, or blog post, simply being outspoken about issues could move others onto the right path. America has come a long way albeit inch by inch and yard by yard, and still moving forward. But as hard as we try to fight it there will always be hatred and evil in the world, racism and other forms of bigotry are just channels for hateful people use to release that hate and corrupt others with it.

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
    -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Brian D Says:

      I agree…its also the little things…its the examples we set, even when we do not know we are doing it. the things we do, the words we choose…and not letting our friends get a pass on the words they choose, and the things they do… calling them out…

      I think this is a struggle we all share, even though some of us, have never been the victim of that kind of hatred.

  3. Acegrl Says:

    I strongly recommend reading Mike Sager’s “Scary Monsters and Super Freaks.” There’s a chapter titled “Damn! They Gonna Lynch Us” that tells the Rodney King story in a thorough, unique way. It includes background on King, including his activities on the night leading up to the beating. It includes background on the police (both the force as a whole as well as the individual officers involved). It includes background on George Holliday, the man who actually filmed the beating. It’s a 360 view on all the factors that fed into the incidents that occurred that night in a truly colorful way.

  4. Gabriel Says:

    As my main dawg Samuel Langhorne Clemens once said– “Change doesn’t occur at the center– it occurs at the edges.” It occurs in the thousands of tiny interactions that we have every daywith the dentist, with the pharmacy-tech, with the neighbor– with the police officer.

    With each other.

    It’s about the kind of people we strive to be– respecting humanity, dignity, civil and human rights. The officers who mercilessly beat Rodney King– and the ones who stood by and did nothing to stop it– the BART officer in Oakland who shot an already-subdued man lying, prone, on the ground– these are the incidents that threaten to rip us to shreds.

    Would Rodney King have been stopped had he been white? Maybe. Would Stacey Koon have delivered those powerful baton blows had he been black? I don’t know.

    The fact that you chose to write about this, out of the approximately 18.6 gajoingallion potential blog topics out there, proves that you are doing something– far greater than merely whining– to promote the kind of change we all need around the edges.

  5. Storm. Katrina Storm. Says:

    I’m about the same age, and from even farther east, and grew up in an area where racism was (and sadly still is) the way it was… So I knew even less about it.

    As I grew up, maybe out of rebellion against my upbringing, or just wanting to do what’s right, I started fighting discrimination.

    Now that I’m almost 27, I look back: I’ve dedicated a big part of my life to promoting equality, and trying to help create a world where all people truly are equal, but it breaks my heart to see that for every step we take forward, there are so many steps backwards.

    There’s a lot we can do, and every person can help make an impact… I’m glad you took the time to research the event, and I’m glad that want to help change things. Yay!

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