"Riot is the language of the unheard."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
The stunning April 29 acquittal of four white police officers charged with assaulting black motorist Rodney King took Los Angeles literally by storm. In its wake this storm left 58 people dead, more than 5,000 buildings torched, and a city in a state of shock. Now it is incumbent upon those of us who reside here to make sense of these dramatic events.
We are a group of concerned Christians, lay and clergy, who have devoted ourselves to the work of justice, peacemaking, and service in this city. We are part of a group that has met regularly for several years to reflect theologically and politically on our work. Many of us are, like the Simi Valley jury, persons who by race and class inheritance belong to the dominant culture. We feel compelled to make this public statement because those in this city with race and class privilege are avoiding taking responsibility for the violence and disruption.
Therefore, we make this confession: The Simi Valley verdict revealed the truth--not the truth about what happened to Rodney King, but the truth about the dominant culture. Sadly, history has yet again demonstrated that the dominant culture remains blind to race and class oppression and deaf to the cries of the disenfranchised unless and until there is a riot. As people committed to nonviolent social transformation, we cannot endorse the recent violence; indeed we are profoundly saddened by it, particularly the loss of life and jobs and hope. But we must recognize that we too bear responsibility for it. Indeed, as long as violence remains the language by which the dominant culture maintains its power, the unheard will be forced to use violence to reach us with their demands for justice.