Fanning the Flames in L.A.

CARL T. ROWAN

April 16, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington. -- As a jury has deliberated the fate of four white Los Angeles policemen accused of brutally violating the civil rights of black motorist Rodney King, we have been afforded glimpses into the worst and best of American thought, behavior and journalism.

We have the appalling scene of scores of Los Angeles people standing in line to buy guns -- a hysterical reversion to Wild West vigilantism that invites myriad tragedies in a city already awash in deadly firearms.

In a community not half recovered from earlier riots that took at least 52 lives and destroyed a billion dollars of property, we have seen a media drumbeat of rumors and speculations about even ghastlier new riots if the new jury verdict offends leaders of Los Angeles street gangs -- and public-opinion makers.

The media, the talk shows, have broadcast inflammatory rumors that awesomely armed gangs will this time spare the black and brown ghettos and put the torch to the "three B's," Brentwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. Another rumor widely spread by the media is that hoodlums have stolen thousands of police uniforms and will wear them as they spread chaos and destruction across the "city of angels." No substance for these rumors has been found.

Some elements have seemed to want to make their predictions of grotesque new rioting a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let's face the truth that some elements in Los Angeles, and across the nation, want riots. They know that black violence gives substance to the whispered innuendoes that some "black gene" makes black people "predisposed to crime." Riots bolster the argument by the defense lawyers in the "Rodney King" trials that this society must condone even cruel police behavior, because police represent "the thin blue line" that shelters "good Americans" from the "inherently criminal animals."

The sanest, most refreshing voice during these tense days has been that of a man who has powerful reasons to hate black people, and to rant and rave against black hoodlums. I refer to Reginald Denny, the white truck driver we saw on TV as he was being beaten shamefully by black thugs during the earlier rioting.

On NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, Denny made it clear that he did not embrace the slur that his attackers were born as "gorillas in the mist," a line used by one of the accused L.A. policemen. Denny said he could forgive those who battered him, because he saw them as human beings of great potential who had been denied any real opportunity to become positive, contributing members of this society.

Denny has tried to strip the Los Angeles crisis of racial passion by reminding us that while black men beat him, black people saved his life, and black doctors helped to bring him back to reasonably good health.

This victim of atrocious crimes came across as a man far wiser than the lawyers, the talk-show demagogues, the press predators who are exploiting the Rodney King case, making it an ever-escalating curse upon all of America.

We get story after story about how the L.A. police department, the National Guard and others are girding for a semi-civil war. I fear that excessive talk about police and military readiness may be seen by some hoodlums and gang members as a dare, a challenge to them to show that they can foment another orgy of violence, burning and looting.

Given all the inflammatory, emotional, explosive elements of this trial, it is hard to see a scenario in which we all can say that the jury system works fairly, and that while some of us may dislike the verdicts, we accept them peacefully. But I hope those wishing for riots are disappointed, because it will take a generation for us to undo the psychological damage of another orgy of looting and burning.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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