I should say something about Rodney King . He was found at the bottom of his pool ; he died , and was buried . One of his daughters spoke at the memorial service . She wanted to speak about the man and not the symbol .
Several LAPD cops beat him in 1991 and the vicious beating was filmed . The cops were tried and found not guilty . Only in court . In the so called “court of public opinion” the cops were guilty .
And then came the so called “LA riots”. Looting and burning and mayhem went on for days . I was teaching at Virgil Middle School at 1st and Vermont . In my classroom we were watching on TV the fires burn and the stores looted . ” Hey , Mr. H ,” one of my students said , ” that’s across the street “. We all turned to see the real scene unfolding across 1st Street . The small shops on Vermont were burning . Just like on TV .
The school went into lockdown . No one in , no one out . The principal sent up to the classrooms blocks of government cheese and cartons of chocolate milk after a few hours . That was all he had .
I saw days later a photo in US News and World Report of one of my students . He brought the magazine to school to show me . He was very proud . He was smack in the center of the centerfold photo of looters emerging from a store , arms full of stolen goods . ” I didn’t get anything at that store , ” he said , as if it had all been some exciting , impromtu game . ” I got some clearasil at another store , ” he explained .
He was a nice kid . I explained to him that what he had done was criminal activity and so , maybe , it wouldn’t be such a great idea to show everyone his picture . I was the wet blanket . For weeks afterward students showed up in new shoes . Some of them complained that the shoes were the wrong size .
It had been a party . Free stuff ! The cops weren’t around to put a damper on things . LA Riots ? The media labelled it as racial . Certainly a free-for-all . What’s your connotation of riots ? Most of those looters in the Virgil area wouldn’t have known who Rodney King was .
Quietly , over the next few weeks , the Koreans took their kids out of Virgil . It was weird to notice them gone . Where had they gone ? Their fathers had got a message and weren’t taking any chances after so many Korean stores had been burned down in the area . Virgil is on the edge of Koreatown .
I’m trying to think back to that political philosophy class I once attended at UCLA . Wasn’t it Tom Hobbes who thought human nature was evil? That that nature had to be controlled . Was it Voltaire who believed the opposite , that human nature is good ? I found this quote from Voltaire : To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid ; you must also be well-mannered . Well , maybe it wasn’t Voltaire I’m thinking of . Philosophy isn’t one of my strengths . Maybe I’m thinking of Jean Jacques Rosseau. He said : All of my misfortunes in life have come from putting too much faith in my fellow men . No , I don’t suppose it was he either .
We seem to still have a problem of social and political order . Thomas Hobbes died in 1679 . Can we get somebody working on this ? You know , with the goal of finally coming to a solution once and for all ? And , I think , we should follow Will Rogers’ advice :Nothing you can’t spell will ever work .
Rodney King said at the time of the notorious incident : Can we all get along ?
A good question . Voltaire said : Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers .
I’m not really expecting an answer . I wanted to mention the passing of Rodney King , a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time . He became a symbol and to some a hero . Will Rogers said : Being a hero is the shortest-lived profession on earth .