Framed in Black and White

Verdict. From the Latin verum dictum, a true word, something truly spoken.

Wednesday, April 29, 1992

It is an unusually warm and clear spring afternoon, the kind on which you can actually see the beautiful San Gabriel mountains. It is the kind of day typically portrayed on L.A. Law and L.A. Story and every manufactured fantasy of the City of Angels. The kind on which you'd rather be at the beach.

I'm at the American Friends Service Committee office, staring out the window and lost in a reverie. A colleague pokes his head in my office and announces, "They're about to read the verdict in Simi Valley." The daydream shatters, and a chill begins to grip the hollow of my stomach.

For months it has been called the "Rodney King case," a cruel misnomer since it is four Los Angeles police officers who are standing trial, not King. Yet ironically the misnomer in the end proves to be more accurate. It was in fact King who was prosecuted, the jury concluding incredibly that he was responsible for the officers' behavior.

I look up at the television. Defendants Koon, Briseno, Wind, and Powell are greeting the news of their acquittal with stoic triumph; their lawyers are declaring that justice has been done while waving the press away from their clients. Powell, liable to be retried on the one deadlocked count of assault, confidently asserts, "Now I know I'm innocent." The jury is whisked away by a predetermined secret route.

It strikes me that the jury's verdict is indeed "speaking truly." It articulates the truth not about what happened to Rodney King, but about this essential, intractable gulf in American society between the privileged and the poor, between those whose voice is everywhere reproduced and those whose voice is heard distortedly only when there is a riot.

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Sojourners Magazine July 1992
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