On March 3, 1991, in the wee hours of the morning three friends who had spent the night watching basketball and drinking were speeding on Interstate 210 in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. A California Highway Patrol unit gave chase, but the driver refused to pull over. The high-speed pursuit continued on surface streets was joined by multiple LAPD units, including a helicopter.
As the three unarmed subjects in the speeding car were finally apprehended, one of them was tasered twice, struck with a police baton thirty-three times by multiple officers, and kicked six times, even after being subdued. George Holliday videoed the incident from his balcony. That video became a media sensation.
Rodney King, who was found to be legally intoxicated at the time of his arrest, suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations. Four LAPD officers were charged with using excessive force. The jury consisted of ten whites, one Latino, and one Asian. On April 29, 1992, three of the officers were acquitted and the jury could not agree on one of the charges against the fourth officer.
Within hours of the verdict, the Los Angeles riots of 1992 began. They lasted six days, resulting in 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Other cities also experienced unrest.On May 1, 1992, Rodney King made a television appearance in which he pleaded, “Can we, can we get along?”
I grew up in a white bubble. Blacks were almost a novelty in the small Midwestern city of St. Joseph, Missouri. Sadly, we had crude stereotypes, beliefs, and sayings that were an unfortunate part of the majority culture back in the sixties.
In 1992, I was a pastor of an all-white church in Decatur, Illinois, a city that had its own racial tensions. BY that time, I was almost forty years old and had never had a black friend or even a meaningful conversation with a person of color.
Somehow, I got word that the local black pastor’s association was re-writing their organizational constitution and bylaws. Since I had just written those documents for the newly formed Evangelical Pastors’ Association, I volunteered to help.
Even though, I was the only white face at their meeting, I was warmly received. However, I was puzzled that they were so involved with “social issues” and were obviously Democrats. I thought how could a Christian possibly have those political views? In those days, I was very much wrapped up in the White/Evangelical/Republican melding of religion and politics.
As I worked with the committee to get their organizational documents in order I found my new associates to be very gifted and dedicated men of faith, and I made a new friend.
Unfortunately, it was not very long before I moved to another church in another part of the state. But, I remember having lunch with my new friend. He was a fascinating guy and we had a lot of things in common. We were both struck by the importance of a black man and a white man becoming friends. Since we were both pastors, our friendship would have an impact on our congregations. Some congregants would likely view our friendship positively, others no so much. As we continued to talk about how to get past some of things that had kept us apart for too long, my wise friend reminded me that it all comes down to relationships.
The white pastors group was having its monthly meeting when we got word that the police officers’ verdict was about to be proclaimed. Now that we finally had relationships with our fellow black pastors, we deemed it a good idea to get together and to pray. We did get together in the civic center park of the city. The local television station found us there, black people and white people holding hands praying for the situation in Los Angeles, praying for their community, and praying for change in people’s hearts.
It all begins with one person getting to know another.
This was my column for the Kenosha News on February 4, 2018.