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Tue Jul 12, 2016, 10:43 AM

Race, justice, and America's founding mistake

Same thing over and over again.

Source: The Week, Damon Linker

Discussing the problem of factional clashes that can lead to political unrest and even revolution, Aristotle remarks that the source of such conflicts can often be found in an "error" that takes place "at the beginning" of a political community's history at a time when "even a small error" takes on outsized importance for everything that follows.

Consider the L.A. riots of 1992, sparked when a jury in Simi Valley, California, failed to convict four police officers who'd been caught on video encircling Rodney King, an unarmed black motorist, and brutally beating him with batons. Soon L.A. was burning, with much of the mayhem filmed from the air by helicopter, allowing the rest of America to observe the violence live, from a safe, judgmental distance.

But then something touched a nerve: A news helicopter caught a group of black men swarming around a truck, pulling the white driver from the cab, and beating him. Before long, one of the assailants hurled a brick into the driver's face at point-blank range and then broke into an exultant dance. Seeing this vicious assault live on TV, I exploded in fury, screaming impotently at the injustice I'd just witnessed. How dare these criminals attack an innocent man just because of the color of his skin! Who the hell did they think they were? Send in the cops! Call up the reserves! Declare martial law!

It's an intolerable situation at least for blacks. For whites? Yes, it's a problem, but also one much more easily forgotten, grudgingly accepted, or explained away. That certainly explains my reaction to the Rodney King verdict 24 years ago. It's bad, I thought. But not something to infuriate me. Unlike the similarly arbitrary act of unjust violence committed against the white truck driver. That was the real outrage. Or so it seemed to me at the time. Not because of anything as refined as ethical reasoning or moral judgment. But because deep down I knew that I would never find myself in Rodney King's shoes and that even though I had very little in common with a truck driver hauling a load through south-central L.A., I had enough in common with him that I could put myself in his place.

Because he was white.


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