I was a freshman in high school when the verdict came back in the Rodney King trial. The white police officers who had beat him half to death on video were acquitted and racial tensions were running high. The next day, most of my white classmates stayed home from school out of fear that they would be the target of someone looking to use the incident as an excuse for violence (my school was predominately black and most of the white students were bused in from on the other side of town). My sister and I were in school that day and, of course, no race riot erupted. Having grown up for many years in the inner city, we knew that despite the media circus fanning the flames of racism, the vast majority of our black friends were not the mindless, seething mob waiting to take vengeance upon the first unsuspecting white kid who walked by.
But I remember the words my Mom said to us as we were getting ready for school that day: “You may encounter some very angry people today. But remember, they have every right to be.”