In making his point, my friend recalled Rodney King’s famous statement from May 1, 1992, made as riots convulsed Los Angeles:
People, I just want to say, you know, can we all just get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? . . . It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice. . . . Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.
Things didn’t work out too well back in 1992. The LA riots, sparked by the acquittal of the four policemen who had brutalized Rodney King, saw some 55 people killed, with more than 2,000 injured, and property damage estimated at $1 billion.
On the other hand, riots of that scale have not been commonplace in the decades since. So maybe Rodney King’s words had an effect. And so, as my friend said, with a nod to what’s happening now, maybe we shouldn’t undervalue Rodney King’s message. At this terrible moment, it would be good to be able to say—and even better to be able to show—that we all can get along.
Of course Rodney King’s message has a tougher side as well.
It calls for us to get along, yes. But it also means saying No. As in: No excuse for police brutality, let alone murder. None. No excuse for mob brutality, let alone murder. None. No excuse for racism. None. No excuse for violence against innocent citizens of any race. None.
Obviously that No has to be accompanied by a positive discussion and debate of policy reforms and civic and political actions that improve our current situation. Some of these will come from the left, some from the right. About some there will be consensus, some will be the subject of contentious debate.
But that consensus, and that debate, require civic peace. To achieve consensus, to engage in debate, we’ll have to agree—to some degree at least—to all get along.