Holy fool


MIAMI -- The last time Rodney King turned the other cheek, Los Angeles police fractured it for him, so his recent overture to them is, to say the least, surprising. For those who missed it, Mr. King wants to meet face to face with Stacy Koon and Lawrence Powell, the two former Los Angeles police officers who served time for his infamous videotaped 1991 beating. Mr. King told CNN last week he thought it would be "healthy" to ask his attackers to "tell me if you really believe that you had the right to do what you did that night."

Speaking through his attorney, Koon called the offer "pathetic." One imagines the poor man is simply stunned by the audacity of it. It's not every day a man reaches an olive branch out to hands that once wielded batons against him.

A grip on Jell-O

I've been trying to wrap my mind around Mr. King's offer for days, approaching it from more angles than a fighter pilot. It's like trying to get a grip on Jell-O.

Nobody I know who's heard this news is having as much trouble analyzing it as I am. My wife immediately questioned Mr. King's common sense. My boss wondered aloud whether he's not simply addicted to the media spotlight.

Valid observations. Yet here I sit with intellectual Jell-O squeezing through my cognitive fists.

Here's my problem: Yes, Rodney King is a buffoon. In fact, with his litany of drunk-driving and wife-beating arrests, he seems to be campaigning hard for the position of National Buffoon, a post previously held by such noteworthy dimwits as Dan Quayle, Billy Carter and Leon Spinks.

But for all that, the man has shown a talent for occasionally saying or doing something that stops you cold, or makes you revisit old questions with new eyes.

The first time, of course, was when Los Angeles police kicked the living daylights out of him for the benefit of an unseen video camera, thus allowing every black man in America to say, "See, that's what I've been complaining about," and forcing those whites with functioning social consciences to own up to the fact that some of us are more equal than others.

The second time was when young black, white and Hispanic hotbloods sought to burn Los Angeles down in his name and he faced the cameras and asked in a quivering voice, "Can we stop making it horrible? Can we all get along?"

It was a damn good question. So good -- so big, so guileless, so frightening -- that we couldn't answer it. It became the catch-phrase of the day. We sort of laughed our way around it and went on.

And now, this.

Mr. King's offer to meet with Koon and Powell may show the lack of common sense my wife says it does, may illustrate the spotlight addiction my boss suspects, and yet, something about it won't allow me to write the gambit off completely.

Call it a sliver of possibility. Call it, what if?

As in: What if everyone were willing to put recriminations, hatreds and grudges on the table and talk them through? What if it became fashionable to reach out to people who hurt you? What if we forgave?

I dream foolish-large, I know. Always happens to me this time of year.

Always happens as lights flash joy in crayon hues, always happens amid the gift wrapping and back slapping, and choirs singing songs of good will. Always happens, I guess, because I know that tomorrow the world will be mean again -- in fact, that it never stopped being mean. Always happens because, in the sanctuary of the season, it is natural to think of children, and I wonder about the world we're making for them.

Always happens.

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I can only say in my own defense that a sliver of possibility is a bracing thing, like cold water trickling on the spine. What if, you know?

"What if . . . ?"

B6 Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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