Everyone should have listened to Rodney King.
The Los Angeles police beating of King after a high-speed chase in 1991 was videotaped by a bystander, which led to protests by those who believed it was a racially motivated. The eventual acquittal in a state court of the officers charged with using excessive force against King sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“People, I just want to say, can’t we all get along? Can’t we all get along?” King, who was 27, asked on May 1, 1992.
King, who battled addictions for the rest of his life, died in 2012. He was 47.
“Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction like I’m a fool for believing in peace,” he once told the BBC.
I remember the “can’t we all get along?” comment becoming something of a national punchline, which only fuels the tragedy. But King was right. Given the events this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, can anyone honestly say as a country we’ve learned anything in the past 28 years? If anything, the only things that have changed are that everyone has cameras with them today to record everything that happens around them and we are all surrounded every day by even more violence and intolerance. So much so that we are numb to it until it boils over in places like Kenosha.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
“Imagine,” as John Lennon wrote and sang, “All the people. Living for today … Nothing to kill or die for … Imagine all the people. Living life in peace.
Other than the humanity we all share, I may have little in common with Jacob Blake. I’ll never be a 29-year-old African-American father. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I would be shot in the back during an altercation with police. But maybe I should try to put myself in his shoes.
Nor do I have much in common with Kyle Rittenhouse. I didn’t own a semi-automatic rifle when I was 17. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I would have walked in to a crowd as a teenager and started shooting. I can’t imagine doing it now. Maybe I also need to try harder to understand why a kid would do these things.
We’re all human. We all make mistakes. Generally, I think, we are all confined to viewing the world only through our own experiences and perspective. Because of this, it’s possible even for siblings to grow up in a family, look back at those shared experiences years later and recall completely different memories.
If this sort of division happens in families — and, I think, it happens in most families — it’s easy to understand how the issues of race and violence are immediately viewed from so many different perspectives when events happen like those this week in Kenosha.
I can’t help but wonder how much better our world would be if police had somehow stopped Blake from getting to his vehicle and listened to what he had to say. I can’t know what Blake was thinking in those moments, but I wonder how much better the world would be if he had felt as if he could have asked the police for help.
How can a 17-year-old learn to shoot first and ask questions later?
Can’t we all get along?
Sadly, I’m not sure we ever will. And maybe it has always been this way. After all, in the first book of the Bible, one of the sons of Adam and Eve killed his brother.
But I can’t help but wonder how much better our lives could be if we would only begin to walk in the shoes of those who may differ from us but are still walking through this life with us.