Hard to believe, today marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the L.A. riots. It’s still one of the saddest moments in U.S. history I can recall from my lifetime.
That said, it was also a pre-Internet milestone in citizen journalism, which I consider a positive development. Gruesome as the King video was, I still don’t think we’d have been better off not knowing what happened at all between King and the police. We need to confront these things, and if we prove incapable of doing that constructively, it’s not the fault of the documentarians. The fault is all of society’s to share.
I point that out because this 2006 magazine profile of George Holliday, the plumber who shot the famous video, has really “stuck” with me ever since I read it. He’s obviously come to view that whole chapter of his life with mixed feelings, maybe even primarily as one big headache.
But you know what, if any of the rest of us saw such a scary incident right outside our door, in a split second, what would we do? What would you do, not having the power of foresight about riots, whether you might tick off the agitated officers on the spot yourself, et cetera? Would you just “mind your business,” or grab a camera and do whatever you could to let people know that what’s happening is plain wrong? In the moment, would fear or your basic sense of decency triumph?
Holliday faced that test and passed, which will always make him a hero in my book. It saddens me that he or anyone else would doubt this for a moment.