Who Speaks for Black Americans?

As I watched the television footage of the riots in South Central Los Angeles, the city looked more like war-torn Beirut than a great American metropolis. And I must say, with a heavy heart, that the black community has been the victim of at least four injustices in these events. Injustice number one was the acquittal itself. Rodney King might have resisted the officers at first, but he was certainly subdued long before the 56th blow of a policeman's baton. The jury system is the best system we have for protecting the individual rights, but it's not perfect. And this is one case where it seems to have broken down. Injustice number two. In the looting and murder that followed the verdict, the main victims were members of the black community. Law-abiding black citizens had their homes and businesses torched by a tiny percentage of young hoodlums using the King verdict as an excuse to go on a rampage. One business owner appeared on television, tears streaming down her face, sobbing, "Forty years of my life are gone." An older black man whose business was burned down shouted in agony to people on the street: "Why are you doing this to me? I came up from the ghetto, too. It's people like me you're hurting." The stories are gut-wrenching. Injustice number three was the outrageous behavior of certain black leaders, who suggested that lawless behavior of this sort is somehow justified. The mayor of Washington, D.C., Sharon Pratt Kelly said, "This violence was to be expected." Congresswoman Maxine Waters called the rioting a predictable response--ultimately to Reagan and Bush policies of cutting back on social programs. These are people who should have been providing leadership to the majority of law-abiding, middle-class black families. But instead they treated the hoodlums as though they were the voice of the black community--as though they represented the frustrations of all blacks. It was utterly demeaning to the black citizens of America. And not only demeaning but false. Polls show that most blacks were appalled by what happened in Los Angeles, and wanted the police to come in and impose order. They didn't feel the hoodlums spoke for them. The rioters weren't motivated by racial protest anyway. They were opportunists who saw a chance to enrich themselves. Many weren't even black. My television screen showed lots of whites and Hispanics, smashing windows and looting stores. One black woman looked around at the burning buildings and said, "This has nothing to do with Rodney King. This has to do with greed." She's absolutely right. And there's no way to dress it up with high-sounding talk as though it were some idealistic protest. That would only justify and excuse barbarism of the sort we do not tolerate from any group that calls itself civilized. In fact, that is the final injustice. When community leaders excuse outrageous behavior, what they're saying is, in effect, Well you can't expect anything better from these folks. They're acting as though ghetto dwellers were children, who can't be held to the same standards as ordinary people. It's never an act of kindness to excuse crime. It's an insult--a blow to our dignity as moral agents, made in the image of God.


Chuck Colson


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