Hearing that Rodney King died on June 17, I flashed backed to the incident that brought him into prominence. Who could forget the brutal beating that Rodney took at the hands and batons of seven police officers, following a police chase? I still remember vividly how I felt when the Rodney King verdict of not guilty for the police officers, who were seen on tape viciously beating him, was announced. I felt astonished, angry, upset and in disbelief. As a former prosecutor, I felt that the case should be a slam dunk for the prosecution. It is rare to actually have video of a criminal incident. And yet, in the case of Rodney King, it did not matter to the all white jury, who refused to believe their eyes. It is as if the jury blocked out the truth and replaced it with a lie.
The feelings that I felt were magnified 100 times or more by some in Los Angeles when the verdict caused eruptions of riots killing 50 persons and injuring many more. And surprisingly, it was Rodney King who put everything in perspective when he said those famous words when asked for his thoughts. He said “Can we all get along.”
King’s words are as appropriate today as they were then back in 1992. Today, the country is as divisive and polarized, if not more so, than it was in 1992 with the Rodney King verdict. Racism is raising its ugly head in unimaginable ways since President Obama took his oath. The country is divisive in the direction that the country should be going in and who should lead the country. And we are at a stalemate in the Congress and Senate to improve the situation for many Americans. Many would rather see America fail than have President Obama lead us.
The word unity seems to have been eliminated from the dictionary of many Americans. And yet, it was the lesson of Rodney King’s prophetic words. We are better working together than apart. We are better at respecting each other than hating each other. We are better at trying to get along than trying to destroy each other. We are better at unity instead of divisiveness.
As prophetic and simplistic as the words of Rodney King, it is the lesson we have yet to learn. “Can we all get along?” Apparently, we have not found a way to accomplish this task. We are no more closer to and perhaps farther away to this task than we were in 1992 during the Rodney King verdict and riots. We have not learned that we cannot continue on the path that we are on. We have not learned how to get along. As the riots of 1992 showed, we are on a destructive path if we can’t find the answer to the question that Rodney King posed to all of us. Rest in peace, Rodney King. Maybe one day, we will find the answer to the question that he posed to us.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.