Rodney King, whose 1991 videotaped beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers gained national attention, uttered those words before a crowd of reporters, cameras and microphones on May 1, 1992, in his effort to help calm the calamitous riots the officers’ acquittals had sparked.
On April 29, rioters had seized on the verdicts as an opportunity to vandalize, loot, burn, and kill. The U.S. Marine Corps and the California National Guard were called in to quell the violence, which lasted four days, and in which 55 people died, more than 2,000 were injured, and more than 3,000 businesses were damaged. Fire departments responded to more than 7,000 calls. There was nearly $1 billion in damage. Smaller riots broke out in other parts of the United States.
I imagine Rodney King was shocked at what his run-in with the police had helped trigger. Appealing to the rioters to end the violence, he, like the rest of us, sincerely wished we could all get along.
"Sometimes 'enough is enough' is a necessary catalyst for a productive transition. Sometimes it’s just an excuse for wanton indulgence."
Most of us do "get along," more or less, most of the time. It’s the times in between, the times of "enough is enough," when we don’t. And to be sure, there are moments when "enough" really is enough. If there weren’t, we’d still have slavery in this country. Black Americans would still not be voting, nor would Chinese citizens, nor women. Children would still be working 14-hour days in sweatshops instead of going to school. There’d be no insurance protection nor health benefits for workers, and no mandatory breaks nor grievance processes. But there’d still be plenty of unsafe working conditions and unfair hiring and firing practices. Go back a little further, and we’d still be paying taxes to a government across the sea with no say about our own political, business or international destiny.
Sometimes "enough is enough" is a necessary catalyst for a productive transition. Sometimes it’s just an excuse for wanton indulgence. The hard part is to know the difference. The harder part is to take action without destroying each other.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" (essay, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, Boston: Beacon Press, 1967, p. 62, paperback edition).
Dr. King was not only a U.S. black civil rights leader; he was a Christian, a Christian teacher. He envisioned a world in which Jesus’ statement, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34, NKJV), would be a universal reality. That world did not come in King’s lifetime, nor, I dare say, will it come in ours. But his conviction that it should, that it needs to, profoundly changed the present imperfect world for the better.
Can we all get along? When we love one another the way Jesus loved, we can. And many people do. And the fact is, many more people get along today than did before Martin Luther King taught a nation by personal example, to the point of being assassinated, that nonviolence changes relationships infinitely more effectively than violence.
We have a long way to go. But it must not be forgotten that, because some people have believed and acted on the words of Jesus, we also have come a long way. There are setbacks and there are advances along the journey. But the advances do not come from giving hatred its head; they come through the work of those who, like Martin Luther King, set themselves to follow the path of the cross of Jesus.