I was twenty-three when the Rodney King verdict came down, and unlike many twenty-three-year-olds, I was still in college. It was spring, and I was living in a Christian off-campus dorm. Like everyone else, I’d seen the video a million times, and I was certain (certain!) that there would be convictions.
I was twenty-three, and so sure I was right. I have often lamented and I continue to lament the way I will likely never be as sure of anything as I was sure of everything at twenty-three, and when someone in the dorm lounge told me there was a verdict, I looked at the TV and saw the footage again, and then saw the officers walking free. I’m older now and realize that I was not privy to whatever the jurors knew, that I was completely sure of something in which I had no grounds for certainty. That video was just a few seconds long, and as horrible as it was, it wasn’t the whole story.
But I was twenty-three, and there was live video of people running mad in the streets, people chanting the refrain to a little-known Intelligent Hoodlum rap called “No Justice, No Peace,” and I was filled with a rage I don’t think I’d felt before, and have only felt a few times since. It was an irresistable desire to express myself, to join the anger in the streets and add my voice to the others: No justice, no peace; no peace, no justice. I remember running out of the lounge onto the beautiful front porch of the dorm, the kind of front porch you see in movies, with an actual porch swing and one of the nicest views of Honolulu you can get from within Honolulu. I looked out there and wondered if it would be long before our own streets would be filled with teeming throngs of angry citizens, and I yearned to be part of it.
When you’re twenty-three, you’re not only right: you are also invincible. I felt a little tinge of hesitation for my safety, but then I remembered the video of that man being held down and beaten, and I reminded myself that too many such men had been held down and beaten, their attackers free to go to their nice jobs and homes while those black men, individually and collectively, struggled to get back up and on their feet. I remember pacing restlessly on that porch, looking with longing at the city and thinking there must be something I could do to let the world know that I’d had enough, too.
I went back into the lounge to see what was up, and it wasn’t long before it got ugly. Fires. Looting. Overturned police vehicles. That wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all. And that pent-up feeling of rage, still there and still desiring release, was put down for a moment. The images on the screen were scary now, and I worried for my friends who were living in Los Angeles, and I wondered if this would spread to other large cities.
I thank God that I live in a town that’s generally mellow, one where taking things in stride is the norm. It can be frustrating sometimes, but this state has the longest life expectancy in the nation, and I attribute that to the mellowness. There was some protesting at the capitol for a couple of days, and then most of the furor died down everywhere but in California. I admit that at first, I felt slightly ripped off that I was never able to be part of the real protest. I got over it quickly, as did most of the country.
I write all of this to say that I get it. I get what’s going on in some cities where people’s lifetimes of feeling like they have had to fight for every uphill step have been strained to breaking; I get it because I remember feeling that way too, not on my own behalf but on the behalf of fellow citizens.
I’m not twenty-three anymore, and I am cursed with perspective and other maddening things that come with age. Compromise, selling out, and acceptance of a slower path to life’s getting better among them. And this: a complete and utter lack of certainty. I know how I feel about police forces having the armament and ordnance of military units, but I also know that I can’t possibly know what happened on the night in question and that most of the stuff attached to this very huge and very important issue have little to do with the issue immediately at hand: whether or not enough evidence exists to put one police officer on trial for one incident.
So my response to all of this, besides just being sad and confused, is to ignore just about everyone in my Twitter and FB streams who feels qualified to render verdicts of his or her own, to turn off the television and resist the shared videos, and just pray for peace and cooler heads.
Don’t you know? Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper.