In the spring of 1991, Rodney King, a black man, was pursued for speeding and afterwards severely beaten by four white Los Angeles police officers. Privately and secretly taken video footage of the beating was released, and the four police officers were tried in 1992. After the verdict -- one officer was found guilty of excessive force and the remaining three were cleared of all charges -- mayhem ensued. Riots, fires and violence broke out in Los Angeles for the next three days. Playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith tells the story of these riots through a series of monologues based on interviews she conducted with individuals involved in the riots. She performed it as a one-woman performance piece, taking on the role of each character that she interviewed.
The play opens with a monologue from sculptor and painter Rudy Salas, Sr., who tells the story of how his grandfather became a gringo hater because he fought them in Chihuahua. He himself became a hater of American whites when he went to first grade and the white teachers told him he was inferior because he was a Mexican. In 1942 he was beaten by police and became nearly deaf as a result. Since that day he has had deep hate within him. He says he has feelings of prejudice against whites but insists that he is not a racist -- he has white friends that he doesn't see as whites. Yet they are his enemies.
This section of the play opens with a monologue based on an interview with the former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission. At his beautiful Brentwood house, he maintains that the cops are the ones being abused by the city. In the next monologue, Michael Zinzun, a representative of the Coalition Against Police Abuse, shares -- quite graphically -- his personal experience with police abuse. Other locals and former gang members are interviewed and tell of the growing racial tensions and violence in the city of Los Angeles.
Here's a Nobody
Angela King, Rodney King's aunt, shares a few memories of her nephew. She becomes angry and says how she wants justice to be served. If it had been the president of the United States that was beaten, everyone would have been enraged, but because a "nobody" was beaten, the people didn't care. She believes the cops showed no remorse during their trial, and that they tried to make Rodney look bad to the people to discredit him. A witness to the beating is interviewed, and tells about how he wasn't called upon to testify -- they only showed the video footage of the beating. A juror from the case says in her interview that the KKK sent a letter of support to the jury.
Various citizens and shopkeepers tell about the Korean-owned stores that were burned and looted in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. The Koreans insist it was the blacks who burned and looted their stores; the blacks insist that it was the Mexicans. Walter Park, a Korean store owner and victim of a gunshot wound during the looting, is brain-damaged and heavily sedated during his interview. His stepson and wife are interviewed, and are angry and confused about why he was shot. Witness Chris Oh reveals that it was an African-American who shot Park at close range. Maxine Waters, an African-American congresswoman, is angry about the way the White House has handled the insurrection. She says that the "riot is the voice of the unheard."
Bill Bradley, a senator representing New Jersey, shares the story of his African-American friend doing a law internship in Los Angeles. At one point during a drive with a fellow intern -- a white female intern -- in the car next to him, the police pulled him over and threw him to the ground in handcuffs. They accused the man of holding the white woman against her will. Literary critic Homi Bhabha talks about twilight as the in-between moment where everything is ambiguous and draws a metaphor between the "inclarity" of twilight and the uncertainty of the L.A. uprisings.
An attorney for one of the police officers in the King beating talks about how he didn't want to take the case because he believed it was a racial beating, and his son had been involved in a racial incident. He wonders out loud about what truth is and if society just wanted the police officers to be found guilty to protect itself. The final monologue is by Twilight Bey, organizer of the gang truce. He is called "Twilight" because as a teenager, he stayed out until the sun came up every morning to protect his neighborhood. He wonders out loud about the meaning of the word twilight, and concludes that it is an area of limbo where the sun is stuck between night and day. The cruelty and evil he witnesses at night are a result of what the daytime has created.
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