The quote “Can’t we all just get along?” came from an unlikely person at a very unlikely time in our nation’s history. Twenty-four years ago in Los Angeles, George Holliday was standing on his balcony when he saw officers from the LAPD stop a car and begin beating and kicking the driver with their nightsticks.
While video was being recorded, the car driver, Rodney King, was beaten by police officers. He was also repeatedly shocked with a Taser gun. Two officers did most of the beating and kicking, but several other police officers stood by and watched it happen. They did nothing to stop the beating.
As a result of the internal police investigation that followed the release of the video, four of the officers were charged. A jury acquitted all four police officers and all hell broke loose in Los Angles. Riots, looting and burning continued for days. Over 50 people were killed in the riots of 1992 and over 2,000 were injured. Peace could only be returned to the city after federal troops were brought in.
During the peak of the rioting and carnage, Rodney King was asked to say something to quiet the rioters — to restore calm to the city. He went on Los Angeles television and asked, “Can we all get along?” Over the years, King’s quote has been changed slightly to read, “Can’t we all just get along.”
Nearly 25 years later, we are still struggling to find an answer to that simple question.
King’s question could have been asked recently in Ferguson, Missouri. Folks in Baltimore are begging for an answer to the question. That simple question cuts to the core of racial and social tension.
The same question, “Can we all get along?” can be asked of the conflicts that divide people of different races, religious belief, nationalities, gender identity, political persuasion, thoughts, feelings and ideas.
We are all different; different in many, many special ways. So, why do we fight?
Last year, my wife and I joined a group from Wilmington College on a 10-day tour of Ireland. The last three days of our trip were spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Part of our time in Belfast involved a tour of the areas where the troubles claimed many lives.
The Troubles. That is a very simplistic way of describing the violence, killing and war that plagued Ireland from the late 1960s until nearly 2000. The conflict divided the nation. The Loyalist wanted to remain part of Great Britain, while the Nationalist wanted to be independent.
The Troubles also were known for pitting Protestants (loyalists) against Catholics (nationalists). Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are still divided by walls, barbed wire, anger and fear. There is a feeling that the peace that is being maintained in Belfast is, at best, a very fragile peace.
When we visited the Titanic Museum in Belfast, I heard the often repeated black joke that the Protestants built the Titanic and the Catholics built the iceberg. The joke isn’t funny, but it highlights the continued feeling in Belfast; a tension that dwells just below the surface of their daily life.
Our bus driver was from the city of Limerick in the Republic of Ireland. The River Shannon flows quietly and peacefully through Limerick. They celebrated life in Limerick.
As we sat in Belfast and talked, our driver told me, “At home, in Limerick, I couldn’t tell you where my neighbors go to church, but in Belfast … for some reason, it makes a difference.”
We are not all the same. We are each different, individual, special. Why can’t we embrace our differences, without eruptions of anger, hatred and violence?
When we cook, we take dozens of different ingredients and spices. We combine them, blend them into something special, delightful and good. We, as a society, need to meet each other. We need to work together. We need to live together without the anger, distrust and violence that we have seen in our past.
We need to teach our children that being different is not bad. Let’s open our hearts and our lives to others who are different from us.
Let’s all get along.
Randy Riley is Mayor of Wilmington.