When I open the pages of that issue now, I am amazed at how good it is — amazed at its depth, its compassion, its thoroughness; by my colleagues’ determination to do right, to get things right. I’m impressed at its wit; moved by its various contributors’ efforts to understand; proud that Kit resisted what must have been a pressing temptation at the time to title the issue “The Fire This Time.” It was a heartfelt effort, but not a falsely earnest one: As much as certain people wanted to elevate the violence to a noble groundswell of resistance, the copious video footage of people running out of stores with arms full of electronic components told us otherwise — columnist Michael Ventura would later call the uprising a “riot on stores,” which was right, I think. Our writers were honest.
Our Korean-American intern, Dexter H. Kim, lamented what he considered a newly kindled antipathy between blacks and Koreans — “WE LOVE BLACK,” read a banner he spotted at a Korean-American rally. Steven Mikulan told of driving recklessly around the city, drinking beer in the car and tossing the bottles out the window. Lynell George, the paper’s single black reporter, wrote a graceful dispatch from the front — a region of the city we struggled not to ignore, as we do now, but almost always did, as we do now. Rubén Martínez constructed a sweeping four-day chronicle of life during riot time. Steve Erickson eloquently captured our collective miasma of guilt and disbelief: “[Y]ou have to wonder how many legal hairs got split to refute 81 seconds the entire world has seen,” he wrote, “how deep into the trees they had to get not to see the forest, at which point it was inevitable that in the light of examining a single leaf, the entire forest would go up in fire.”
I wonder not only about the legal hairs, but about the forest, how easily we get lost in our own clump of trees, see the light filter through them and call it reality. Getting it right was harder in those days than it was in most. I like to think that for all my complaints, I learned a little about truth-telling from watching this operation in action back then. I suspect that all of us did.