In town to attend a national conference on guardianship and elder law, I was in San Francisco twenty-nine years ago when the Rodney King verdict was announced. I remember eating a fresh sourdough avocado sandwich for a late lunch at a small cafe near Fisherman’s Wharf and hearing the news from someone’s radio in the distance, the Rodney King verdict was in.
A gnawing nausea splashed in and flipped my stomach, while a feeling of dread flushed red to my face. This won’t be good, I remember whispering to myself, not knowing the full severity of the situation until I saw it unfold hours later outside my hotel window, seven stories above the city streets. A diverse mixture of Berkley college students and locals organically assembled and marched in protest. I listened to the chants begin, wash through the parade, and go quiet until someone else chose a new cantor to repeat. I saw a comradery rally as I witnessed people erratically kick over newspaper stands, set them on fire, and violently smash storefront windows. The debauchery was random and palpable, and I watched equally in horror and curiosity.
Crowds scare me. I’m an extrovert who likes manageable clusters and seeing waves of people amass on the streets with pent-up anger, homemade signs, and fists in the air catapulted me quickly out of my comfort zone. I knew I’d be ordering room service that night, staying put with the TV remote, and later thanking the universe I was in San Francisco and not Los Angeles, where the situation was deteriorating by the minute.
Even in the thick of things, I was still living out my privilege, safe in a three-star hotel room. I had the means to order in. I was never in any real danger, I was only adjacent to it. This experience was unrecognizably thrilling, and I remember thinking to myself, what kind of injustice would get me off the couch and into the streets with a homemade sign? Later on, and down a different career path, I would discover more injustices about how persons with developmental disabilities were being treated, about food insecurity for children, about systemic economic and health disparities, and about ethnic and cultural inequities.
But back in 1992, I witnessed firsthand the results of a verdict that fell short on justice, and fear lives within me every time a high-profile case is up for jury selection and decision.
There is so much work to be done and so much destruction from the past. I am not on the planet to judge the actions of others who travel a different path, but I do pine for peace, resolution, healing, and progress. This time when the verdict came in, I was on a call with a colleague discussing exciting plans for a wellness initiative on the beautiful grounds of a museum local to me. If all goes as planned, culture, access, and health literacy will be married, inching us one step closer to a kinder, gentler, more equitable world. Justice is a wobbly start to healing, and one way to stop fearing verdicts.