At "Reach for the Beach," a hip...


July 31, 1992

THE DISPLAY WINDOW at "Reach for the Beach," a hip clothing store at Harford Mall, isn't your typical mannequins-in-miniskirts set-up. Rather, a mannequin is sprawled across the display case with its hands positioned behind its back, as if handcuffed. Three baseball bats dangle over the dummy's head, as if being swung by ghosts. Stars and stripes decorate the backdrop. "Justice?" is painted in blood-red letters across the glass.

The act of a vandal? No, it's a statement by the owner, who wanted to comment in his own way about the Rodney King trial verdict -- and also to attract attention to sell some clothes. The discomforting display also includes a quote by King in drippy red paint, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we get along? I mean we're all stuck here for a while. Let's try to work it out." It's alarming, yes, but about as tasteful a police brutality display window as one could imagine.

The window has proven an equal opportunity offender. Store manager Karen Duncan said she has received negative comments from people of all ages and races, who consider it an inappropriate intrusion in the vanilla, Musak-ed atmosphere of the mall. Some passersby have also complimented her on it, the manager said. That the display has endured in politically conservative Harford is intriguing in and of itself. Owner Andy Cohen had to dismantle or modify similar "Rodney King" windows at his "Reach for the Beach stores in Security Square and White Marsh malls after the management complained.

Mr. Cohen, in fact, now sounds sorry he ever did it. His provocative -- he prefers the term, "conscience-raising" -- displays irked his landlords, led to confrontations with offended local police and left him sounding as if he were heeding a lesson from Rodney King himself. Sighed the owner, "I have to learn to get along with the malls."

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