It's not really murder and arson, it's a social statement

Mike Royko

May 04, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

"Everybody on TV keeps telling me to believe my eyes," Slats Grobnik said. "OK, I got good vision. And I seen those cops whack this Rodney guy 59 times. So I believe that they kind of got carried away. One of them looked like he was practicing his golf swing."

Yes, excellent form, too, although his stance was a bit wide.

"So I'm believing my eyes. But now they don't want me to believe my eyes anymore."

Of course they do.

"Uh-uh. I been listening. I listen to Jesse Jackson and that lady congressman and all of those other politicians and leaders and professors. And I hear them telling us what really caused all this rioting."

Ah, you mean shock, anger, resentment, a sense of hopelessness.

"Yeah, and lots of other stuff."

You mean alienation, a demand for justice, a cry of frustration.

"Right. And that's why all those buildings got burned and people got murdered and they threw the town up for grabs."

Exactly. It was a way of venting the bitterness and resentment.

"So I guess I shouldn't believe my eyes no more."

Why do you say that?

"Because I been watching the TV and I see people coming out of stores with their arms loaded with shoes and spark plugs and car radios and new tires and anything else that ain't nailed down. They're stealing everything in sight. And they don't look like they are in shock or all full of anger and resentment. They look happy. Is that how you make a cry for justice? You go in and see how many stereo sets you can load in your car trunk?"

I suppose Gandhi didn't window-shop by walking through the window.

"And my eyes see some of the guys smashing up a telephone booth and turning over cars and setting fires. None of them looked frustrated. They seemed to be having a whoopee time, like they were celebrating New Year's Eve."

There was a certain lack of social restraint.

"What about the truck driver? Now, there's a piece of videotape. It makes the Rodney tape look like pattycake. I mean, they drag that helpless guy out of his truck and stomp him into mush. And then they jump around like they scored a touchdown. That's a cry for justice, huh?"

So we're told.

"Well, it's different, I guess. If there was sound on that tape, maybe we'd have heard those guys say: 'I am frustrated by the verdict reached in the Rodney King case. So I think we should drag that terrified driver from his truck and beat him to death. It is the only way I have of expressing my anger and outrage at the insensitivity and disrespect shown by that jury toward Rodney King. Come, let us kick and beat an absolute stranger into lifelessness and leap around in a gleeful dance to demonstrate that we believe in equal justice for all.'"

I'm not sure they'd put it quite that way.

"Why not? I thought this was all about justice and frustration and all that other stuff. And that must be why they're trying to kill firemen. Because the firemen are being unjust."

In what way?

"Well, you get mad about the verdict. So naturally, you and your pals decide to set fire to a building. Of course, you loot the joint first. Waste not, want not.Now, you set this fire and you are standing there feeling like a good citizen because you have shown that you are against injustice and have made a social statement. I heard a professor on TV say that's what they were doing -- making a social statement. Then just when you have made your social statement, along come these firemen and they disrespect you and insult you by trying to spray water on your social statement. So naturally, you got to show that you will stand up for justice, so you try to murder some of the firemen. Do I have it right?"

I'm not sure that was their line of thought.

"Me, either. That's 'cuz I got to go with believing my eyes. And what my eyes showed me was a lot of bad, mean, gang-bangers and other low-lifes. And I figure that if the jury found the cops guilty, these guys would have been out mugging people, stealing cars, peddling dope and doing drive-by shootings.

"In other words, spending their time the way they usually do."

You obviously don't concur in the sociological evaluation of this upheaval.

"Yeah, like I believe that when some bozo sticks a gun in my face and asks for my wallet, ring and watch, he's telling me that he's demonstrating an economic theory about distributing society's resources. No, I got to tell the truth. I think people can get mad and raise hell without killing innocent strangers, burning down other people's property, and stealing what don't belong to them. And I also think that Rodney King didn't get that bad a deal after all."

You believe the beating was justified?

"No, the beating was way too much. But at least he's walking around alive and he's got a sharp lawyer who's probably going to get him a bundle of money from the taxpayers in L.A."

Money isn't everything.

"That's true. A lawyer and a big settlement sure wouldn't do much for any of those people who got murdered for justice."

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