Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Gathering of Heroes: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility (book review)

Note:  This is a review that was originally posted by me on Epinions.  I'm reposting it here.

If you knew that there were people trapped in a burning building, would you go in to help people out?  Most people would stand back and let the professionals handle it, which is totally understandable.  Those without training would probably only get in the way.  Gregory Alan-Williams was on his way home from the gym one day.  He had heard the verdict for the four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King.  He knew that there would be rioting.  Instead of playing it safe by going home, Alan-Williams instead went into a dangerous area and actually helped save someone.

The book is Alan-Williams’s retelling of what happened.  He recounts growing up and facing people that would hurt him simply because of the color of his skin.  There was also a teacher that held him responsible for stealing money because of a joke. He writes about going through boot camp to become a Marine and actually beating up another recruit because he wouldn’t fall in line.

The person he saved was Takao Hirata, a man of Japanese descent who happened to be driving through the area.  A mob descended on his car and beat him pretty badly.  Despite this, a police car stopped twice but the police officers didn’t help either time.  Alan-Williams was able to manage to get Hirata into someone’s car and trusted the stranger to take Hirata to a local hospital.  If you want to see how badly Hirata was injured, there are pictures between Chapters 5 and 6.  (They’re not great, but they do help illustrate what Alan-Williams had to go through.)

I found this book at the North Miami Public Library.  I was looking for some books to read and was looking for something short.  At 205 pages, this fit the bill.  It’s definitely an interesting read.  I was in high school when the verdict was rendered on the four police officers.  To be honest, I don’t have a very clear memory of where I was that day.  I don’t think I went to school.  Either the schools were closed that or my parents had the good sense to keep me home just in case.

One of the questions Alan-Williams asks is why, when a white person threatened a black person, there was an uproar, but when black people attack black people, no one gets upset.  I have never understood the need to riot when things go badly.  You’re compounding one injustice with another.  The book doesn’t really go into that.  (Alan-Williams had a bit or backlash for bringing it up on Phil Donahue’s show.)

It’s hard to believe that the L.A. Riots happened nearly 20 years ago.  (The events described in most of the book happened April 28, 1992, although the book wasn’t written until 1994.)  While I don’t know that I’d be able to do what he did, I’m happy to know that there are people out there that would.  If your library has a copy of this, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

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