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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bubbles of Innocence Bursting

The experience of childhood is such a whimsical experience.  Your entire life is filled with very few responsibilities except for doing homework, the occasional chore or two, or trying to decide whether you want to play indoors or outdoors.  Certainly as a child, you think that the world is a wonderful place to be in with so much natural beauty, friendly faces, and safe neighbourhoods.  But every child grows up into an adult at some point, and there is one pivotal moment in which a person can remember when they witnessed something that completely shattered their childhood bubble.

For me, that date was April 29, 1992.

Let's set the stage here.  I was just a few weeks shy of turning eleven.  I was in the fifth grade, my favourite activity to do was anything Nintendo related, my favourite subject was language arts, and my favourite television shows at the time included the entire TGIF line-up on ABC.

Prior to April 1992, I had this idea that nothing bad could ever happen in the world.  It wasn't because I lived in an underground bunker and tuned out the world.  It was because I still had that childlike innocence that the world was a happy place and that nothing could happen that would make it sad.  I was too young to really understand what war was and I didn't quite grasp the concept of what power a natural disaster had because at that time, we hadn't experienced one.

(Well, not until six years later when the great ice storm of 1998 hit.)

But it was on April 29, 1992 that the Rodney King trial concluded, and needless to say, the verdict that was reached seemed to deliver a shattering blow to my cocoon of innocence. 

For those of you who may be too young to know who Rodney King was, or what happened, the short version is this.  In 1991, the African-American Rodney King was arrested by a group of white police officers, who proceeded to beat up the man after they allegedly claimed that he resisted arrest.  Long story short, the police officers who were involved in the beatings were acquitted of all charges, which set forth nearly a week long series of racially motivated riots throughout Los Angeles.  By the time the smoke cleared, it was estimated that 11,000 people were arrested, 2,000 were injured, and at least 53 people lost their lives.  Not to mention the millions of dollars of property damage that was caused by looting and deliberately set fires.

And here was I, a soon to be eleven year old kid, watching the whole thing live on television.

I should probably mention that in my household, there weren't any major rules on what we could or couldn't watch on television.  We could basically make our own decisions on what we thought was entertainment.  Just in case anyone is questioning why two parents would let their ten year old child watch coverage of deadly rioting on CNN.

I just found the whole thing to be very sad and frightening, watching the coverage of the angry people, the fighting, and the fires.  I didn't quite understand everything that had happened with the trial, but I did know that the main argument was that the attack was racially motivated, and that a lot of people were very angry about the verdict as they saw it as a failure of justice.  What I didn't quite understand was why the people who were the most angry about the verdict felt the need to destroy the neighbourhoods that they grew up in.  To attack and beat up people who happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  To disrupt society as much as possible.  What was it all for?  Was it to make a stand?  Was it to make their voices heard?  Or, was it them using the trial as an excuse to behave badly?  I would imagine that all of those questions played a factor in the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

And here we are, twenty-two years later, and it seems as though the world has learned nothing.

By now, I'm sure you know all about the riots that began in Ferguson, Missouri on November 24, 2014.  And you know the story behind the riots.  Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson on the afternoon of August 9, 2014.  There was some altercation between the teen and the police officer before Wilson shot Brown six times. 

Where the anger comes into play is in these known facts.  Brown was African-American, and Wilson was white.  And Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting.

Does this sound like deja vu to any of you?

Once again, the jury delivered their verdict, and once more, the police officer was cleared of any wrongdoing, which caused hundreds in the area to respond by causing a series of riots.  Businesses were looted and torched, people were arrested, and a series of tear gas canisters were released on the streets, the haze of the gas illuminating the SEASON'S GREETINGS signs that decorated city streets.

Now, there is one major difference between the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, and the 2014 Ferguson Riots.  The size of the location.

I was absolutely shocked to find out that the city of Ferguson is practically the same size as my hometown.  I mean, we could practically be sister cities.  I could not even imagine anything like what happened in Ferguson happening here.  To me, it makes absolutely no sense to destroy your own town to prove a point about injustice.  What about those people who lost everything because of the looting?  Did they ask to become victims of injustice too?  Two wrongs don't make a right.

I get it.  You're angry, and you're pissed off, and you see nothing but injustice.  And, well, given the facts of the case, I can definitely understand why you would feel this way.  But to take it out on the community you live in to prove a point is not the way to go, whether it be in Ferguson, or Los Angeles, or anywhere else where racial tensions have boiled over.

Ferguson, Missouri is a community that is hurting right now.  There is so much anger and so much pain, and I don't think a lot of people in that area really know how to get that anger out in a positive manner.  With American Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I think that everyone should work on coming together and stopping the violence.  Being angry is one thing.  But using that anger as an excuse for bad behaviour won't change things. 

Here's the frustrating thing about it.  I honestly don't know what the solution is.  And, for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, I don't know if even they know what the solution is.  I guess all we can do is hope that maybe we have finally learned something from this. 

And, I can imagine that just like I was shocked as a nearly eleven-year-old boy at the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, many nearly eleven-year-old kids all over North America had their childhood bubbles popped just two days earlier.

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