It's hard to believe that the LA riots from the Rodney King incident was 20 years ago. In twenty years so much has happened. There were people born in 1992 who have no idea what caused LA to turn into a battle zone during the year of their birth.
Unfortunately we have too many recent reminders that brutality against people of color by the authorities is still present. Bigotry and racism still exist. As much as racial relationships have changed for the better, there are still incidents that show us that the fires are not yet out.
There are people still alive today who were racist years back. The only difference is that it is no longer fashionable to be a bigot. That is “not cool.” Back pre-1970s being a bigot was very popular.
If you go back to the pre-1950s racial relationships were much worse. I was born back in 1949 in the rural South. My personal experiences as a child would literally remind you of the days of black and white ancient films regarding the racial practices.
We had separate schools for blacks and whites; separate public facilities, water fountains, neighborhoods, and very clear lines where black people could not be seen. Both the law and politicians enforced these lines. Much of this attitude was a carry-over from the days of slavery and racial discrimination that lasted hundreds of years.
With the passage of time, the civil rights movement, many dead martyrs, and the help of compassionate people so much has changed. In most areas of the country things are substantially better, but there are isolated people and places where bigotry is still alive.
Outwardly and legally it is against the law to discriminate against people based upon race, gender, nationality, creed, sexual preference, physical disabilities, or just because they are different. Unlike the days of my youth the law has to support the civil rights of people in spite of their differences. Legally the authorities have to uphold the law even if they inwardly don’t like people who are different.
With America electing its first black President it is quite obvious just how much things have changed. At one point Blacks could only enter the White House if they were servants, but today that same White House has a Black Man as the President of the United States. That is a huge, huge change.
Yes! We have improved tremendously in so many aspects regarding civil and equal rights of people, but there are still areas of life that needs more improvement.
Looking back to 1992 at the LA riots, firstly it is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago, but it is not that hard to imagine people of color being treated badly. Over the years law enforcement has portrayed a bad habit that cannot be easily broken.
Blacks are often viewed as potential criminals even if they were a college professor, teacher, clergyman, or any other noble professional. That goes back to the days when racism and bigotry was openly practiced. The only way things change is by people intentionally refusing to behave as such.
When I mentor young men of color today I tell them that being innocent is not the most important factor when you face law enforcement. Learning how to diffuse tensions is the first thing you should do when approached by people in authority. Many incidents are escalated when egos become inflamed.
The fact that you may be totally innocent of any crime when stopped by law enforcement may be very relevant when you appear in a court of law, but when you are in the field and decide to tell a law enforcement officer how wrong they may be, that only rises the tension level. In nearly all cases policemen are armed with deadly weapons and most citizens are not. That would be like going to a gun battle armed with a puffy little cotton ball.
Today people of color are still treated differently in many cases. Even other black law-enforcers have been known to use such practices because of the stereotypical perception that blacks appear to be more confrontational. The best thing to do as a citizen is to totally diffuse the situation by cooperating with law enforcement officers and make sure you are not perceived to be a threat of any kind.
Not to make light of the actual beating that Rodney King suffered in the infamous incident that sparked the LA riots, but had he totally given himself up and not appeared to be confrontational or evading being pulled over, perhaps the riots would not have happened. In spite of King's actions that still did not give the police the right to brutalize him! This tells us all that the choices we make in potentially deadly situations can make a huge difference in the outcome.
Even though things have changed tremendously in so many ways… just under the surface, things are not so different than 20 years ago. If you go back fifty or sixty years ago things today are as different as night and day.
But don’t be fooled by the quiet before the storm, or the stillness over the surface of the very dark and deep ocean. It only takes a tiny spark to reveal the hurt and emotions people of color still carry deep inside.
Those old wounds are so deep and so hurtful that a tiny incident of brutality against a person of color could hash up those deeply covered feelings of helplessness.
Unfortunately once the floodgates are opened it leads to civil unrest. One would hope that we are better than that after all we have gone through. Just where are we today regarding racial relationships?