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California Gold

I worried when the court venue for the police on trial was changed from Los Angeles to Simi Valley, which has a large percentage of police living there.

My girlfriend at the time, Candy, who was out of work and watching the court proceedings daily, said to me one evening, ”You know, Rodney King could have stopped that beating at any time.“

”What?“ I asked, certain I had misunderstood her.

”Well,“ she explained, ”they played the tape and they showed it in slow motion. You can see when he‘s on the ground he makes threatening motions. If he had just laid there, they would have stopped beating him.“

Anger snaked up my stomach and coiled in my mouth. ”Do you really think anyone would just lay on the ground without moving while they’re getting the shit beat out of ‘em?“

I felt as if I were looking at Candy from a great distance and there was no getting any closer. There seemed an insurmountable gulf between those who knew how common the abuse of power was and those who didn’t. Although I expected the worst, I was still shocked when the not-guilty verdicts were read.

During those first critical hours when Los Angeles started to burn, there was not much of a police presence. By the time the police did come out, events had spiraled and it was too late to stop the outrage. People saw the flames burning out of control, but most had failed to see the smoldering embers that had been long in the making. It seemed that people saw the same things very differently.

During the third day of the riots, a news crew was out looking for hope. They were on the street when, improbably, they ran into Huell Howser. Huell Howser, a corny but sweet transplanted Southerner who boasts of California on a local PBS program called California‘s Gold, smiled when the newscaster yelped, ”Look! It’s Huell Howser!“

”So what do you think, Huell? How is your neighborhood doing?“

Huell shook his head and smiled winningly. He said his neighborhood pulled things together and that the situation was much better than the media were portraying it.

Huell smiled, the newscaster smiled. Meanwhile, a black youth had been standing behind Howser the entire time, on live television, shouting, ”Fuck Huell Howser, y‘all hear me? Fuck Huell Howser!“


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