After the Verdicts, Time for Healing

October 21, 1993

Some residents of Los Angeles say the jury let Damien Williams and Henry Watson off easy for beating Reginald Denny in the riotous aftermath of the acquittals of the police officers who beat Rodney King. Inevitably, there have been calls for a second trial in federal court. There would be some symmetry in a federal trial:

* The police officers who beat Mr. King were acquitted by suburban jurors, though videotape evidence clearly showed officers went beyond the legal limit in using force to subdue him. Messrs. Williams and Watson were acquitted by Los Angeles jurors on 16 serious counts and found guilty of only six lesser crimes, though videotape evidence clearly showed they were engaged in brutal behavior that went beyond their "simple mayhem" and "misdemeanor assault" convictions.

* Federal laws were used to convict the police officers in a second trial. The particular laws do not apply to private citizens, but the so-called Anti-Ku Klux Klan Act of the Reconstruction Era does.

* And clearly, race was a motivating factor in both assaults.

But it would be a mistake for Washington to try Messrs. Williams and Watson, or for California to re-try them on other charges. Enough is enough. This trial and its predecessors have kept far too many individuals feverish with racial animosity.

It is time to calm down, to cool off. The best way to do that is to quit for awhile re-telling and re-examining the acts of Rodney King, Officers Laurence Powell and Stacey Koon, Damian Williams and Henry Watson, Reginald Denny and others involved in this story. That has become more destructive than instructive. Television news executives would do everybody a favor if they put these two videos back in their libraries.

Now is the time to heal racial rifts. Reginald Denny embraced the mother of one of his attackers after he testified at the trial. He said this week that he agreed with the jurors' light sentences. He understands that Damian Williams and Henry Watson -- and Laurence Powell and Stacey Koon -- are victims as well as victimizers.

Mr. Denny's attitude is part of his healing process. All Americans should be as understanding of the terrible forces that sometimes get out of control at the intersection of race and anger. All of us, white and black, need to do all we can to heal society of the disease of racism. That does not mean forgetting what happened in Los Angeles, but it does mean not dwelling on it.

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