A Verdict, a Future
THIS weekend's verdicts in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers on federal charges of violating motorist Rodney King's civil rights during his arrest in March 1991 brings to a close a two-year ordeal for the nation's second-largest city.
In a larger sense, however, the case has brought the city and the nation face to face with an unfinished agenda: dealing with the challenges of economic empowerment, latent (and not so latent) racism, and a lack of confidence among many people in their governments' ability to deal with an increasingly diverse society.
Saturday's verdict was no compromise. The question of law was clear: Did the defendants willfully violate Mr. King's constitutionally protected right to be free from the use of unreasonable force during arrest? In the case of Sgt. Stacey Koon, the question was whether he violated King's constitutional right to be kept from harm while in custody.
For Sergeant Koon and Officer Laurence Powell, the jury found that the evidence pointed "beyond a reasonable doubt" to conviction. For Officers Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno, the evidence fell short of that test.
Yet clearly the two guilty verdicts, although subject to appeal, removed a catalyst for what many in Los Angeles feared could be a return of the rioting that marked last year's not-guilty verdicts on state charges against the four.
The justice done in this case now must be expanded, a role that will fall to L.A.'s next mayor.
Tomorrow, the city holds a mayoral primary. Out of a field of 24 candidates, two leaders are expected to emerge for a runoff vote: Richard Riordan, a Republican millionaire who declares himself as "tough enough to turn L.A. around," and Michael Woo, a Chinese-American city councilman who is looking to the city's youth and its many ethnic groups for support.
To the winner falls the task of restoring confidence in the city's political and law-enforcement institutions. Both were significantly more prepared for the possibility of violence and more visible in their preparations than they were last year. Yet homeowners and shopowners still bought firearms in heavy numbers.
Community groups in South Central Los Angeles worked hard to keep frustrations from reaching a boiling point if the jury returned acquittals. Those frustrations remain, however. For all the promises of federal and state help following last year's riot, little has arrived. As outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley put it in a televised address: "Today, a jury representing the diversity of our city found the truth. Now, Los Angeles must move on. We must move ahead. Today's verdict, by itself, will not crea te more jobs, or better schools, or bridge our differences."