DURING the Rodney King trial, defense counsel made the jury forgetwhy four police officers had brutally beaten King for over 80 seconds. But the social and political protest--riots--that followed the announcement of a not-guilty verdict have forced America to remember.
He was not violently assaulted for speeding or because he was under the influence of PCP. The only threats he presented to the officers were his color and his gender. By virtue of being a Black male, by virtue of being strong and able ("like a bear," as characterized by the defense), King was immediately suspect and automatically assumed to be guilty.
Blacks in Los Angeles rioted because they are psychologically and physically beaten on a consistent basis. To most Blacks, the King verdict revealed that the American judicial system could not provide justice for them.
Neither the American government nor the public should direct their energies toward controlling the intensity of Black anger. The reasons why we are angry need to be addressed--not the anger itself or the manner in which we choose to express it. Americans must be willing to attack the cause of this country's problems, not the effects of those problems.
Rioting itself is an extension of the politics of protest. In Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, Doug McAdam analyzes the effectiveness of disruptive political action. Both riots and non-violent demonstrations such as sit-ins and marches "may constitute the only available means by which excluded groups can overcome their traditional powerlessness within institutionalized political channels."
In the past, Black riots have stimulated or hastened long sought-after federal action. In Black Violence, a study of the federal reaction to urban riots, James Button concludes that in response to riots, government enacted national socioeconomic reform policies more quickly than in response to "conventional forms of political participation" in many cities throughout the country.
"Those who argue that collective violence is necessarily beyond the pale of effective political action and is totally counterproductive in terms of achieving any of the goals set forth by the practitioners of violence are, on the basis of this study, in serious error," Button wrote.
BLACK AMERICANS do not receive equal concern and respect typically given to oppressed peoples by the national government. When riots occur in other parts of the world, Americans applaud the civilians who are attempting to correct or overthrow repressive, Communist or hostile regimes.
In the case of the Soviet Union, President Bush has not only applauded the sometimes violent transformation, but has allocated millions of dollars in aid to new republics.
However, many Americans cannot or will not understand the Los Angeles riots, because they believe that America is above repression.
Unfortunately, the violence and uncertainty that many white Los Angeles residents experienced because of the rioting is equal to what residents in neighboring minority communities suffer daily.
Although we are not responsible for the subordinate position we occupy in this society, most Blacks are willing to solve their own problems. However, we cannot uplift ourselves when we are constantly affected by outside influences that effectively maintain the status quo, including the infusion of drugs and guns, severely underfunded and inferior schools, police brutality and general disrespect.
Black people can exercise control over their own destiny if they are given the means to exercise economic empowerment. We need economic and political control over our own communities.
Operating under the assumption that they must "study" the "ghetto mentality" before releasing control over public resources, whites are often wary of Black community control.
There is no ghetto mentality. Blacks from all economic and social classes are capable of undertaking the task of restructuring their surroundings--and they are the only ones who really know how to do so.
Blacks do not enjoy crime and violence any more the whites do. But the two groups differ in their ability to effectively institute solutions because Black Americans are burdened with the legacy of second-class citizenship and the continued existence of racism and discrimination.
PERHAPS the Rodney King verdict most vividly reveals the entrenchment of institutionalized racism and the depth of racial prejudice in America. King's trial demonstrates the continued effectiveness of racial stereotypes in both delegitimizing legal processes and altering individual perceptions.
Blacks cannot solve their problems until whites solve theirs--the fear of inner-city youths and the fear of educated ones.
Jenifer E. Fisher '93, a Crimson editor, is writing on behalf of the Black Students Association.