In May 1992, Los Angeles was the scene of the worst rioting in the United States since the New York draft riots of 1863. Blacks, furious that the white policemen who had beaten Rodney King were acquitted of criminal violence, went on a rampage that left 58 people dead and 5,300 buildings in ashes. One of the first victims was Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was in his rig in the black part of town just when the verdict was announced. Two blacks pulled him from his truck, beat him senseless, and smashed his face with a fire extinguisher. Another ran up to stomp the barely breathing man, and dance a little jig of glee. Doctors said Mr. Denny’s injuries were like those of someone in a 60-mile-per-hour car crash without seat belts. A fourth black slipped up afterwards and stole the unconscious man’s wallet. Mr. Denny survived, but ten other whites — nine men and one woman — did not. The Denny attack became well known only because it was caught on video by a helicopter journalist.
Identified from the news footage, Mr. Denny’s four assailants went on trial later that year. To many blacks, they were the heroic “L.A. Four,” and supporters bought T-shirts demanding their release. A group called Communities United to Free the L.A. Four managed to field 50 demonstrators a day to protest outside the courthouse. Los Angeles gangs threatened more riots if the men were convicted.
A jury of four blacks, four Hispanics, two Asians and two whites voted to convict, but accepted the defense theory that the attackers were caught up in mob fever. As one of the black witnesses explained, “[the defendants] seemed just like anyone. Just like you and I . . . They just got caught up in the riot. I guess maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In other words, if a black man sees other black men hauling white people from their cars and thrashing them, it would be too much to ask him to refrain from doing the same thing. He is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and cannot help himself. Mr. Denny’s assailants got ten-year sentences and were free in four.
Mr. Denny was in court for the trial, making excuses as eagerly as anyone. He said his attackers must have “gone through an awful lot” to do what they had done to him, and approved the light sentences. He forgave the men, and demonstrated his altruistic zeal by hugging the mothers of two of the men who nearly killed him.
Five years later, Mr. Denny was back in the news arguing that racism was to blame for his beating. Had he finally woken up? No. He and three other whites who were attacked during the riots had filed a $40 million suit against the city of Los Angeles, claiming that police did not quell the riots because they did not care what happened in the non-white parts of town. Police “racism” therefore left them at the mercy of angry blacks. Mr. Denny’s convictions appear to be unshakable.
Amy Biehl was a much more systematic racial altruist and paid a higher price. She went to high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where her father ran an art gallery of modern American Indian art. “I attended a large public high school,” she later wrote, “where as an ‘Anglo’ I represented a small minority. My attempts to do well in school and to win the acceptance of my Hispanic classmates often met with resentment.”
She felt none in return, however, and as a student at Stanford became passionately committed to ending white rule in South Africa. She went to Cape Town on a Fulbright scholarship, and spent much of her time in black slums, studying the sins of apartheid and sex discrimination.
On August 25, 1993, just a few days before she was to return to the United States, she drove three black friends back to their homes. Young blacks stopped the car, pulled her out, and hit her in the face with a brick. She broke away but they caught her and beat her to death as they shouted the anti-white slogan “one settler, one bullet.” The 26-year-old died on the sidewalk pleading for mercy.
Seven blacks were charged in the killing, but one disappeared and three others were released because the main witness against them refused to testify for fear he would be killed. Exultant supporters left the courthouse carrying the three men on their shoulders. At a hearing for the remaining defendants, blacks in the audience taunted whites, and giggled when Miss Biehl’s wounds were described.
None of this mattered to Miss Biehl’s parents, who attended court hearings. They publicly forgave the killers and expressed sympathy for their families. They went on to raise money for what they named the Amy Biehl Foundation, which works “to prevent youth-perpetrated violence in South Africa and the United States.” When their daughter’s killers got out of jail in just a few years, they offered them jobs at the foundation.
Most of the foundation’s work is in South Africa — school programs, a driving range for poor blacks, a string of bakeries that make “Amy’s bread” — but it has also established something called the Prize for Humanity, “given to those who have risked their lives to protect others of a different race or religion.” The first presentation was in 1999 at a Minnesota synagogue, in a ceremony that included “Native American Welcome and Prayer,” an invocation by US Army chaplain Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, and a Tibetan blessing by Gendun Kalsang and Lobsang Junje.
The foundation is devoted to the life and memory of Amy Biehl, but its publicity materials are vague about the circumstances of her death. One account of her life says only this: “[O]n August 25, 1993, Amy made her transition from her eventful life on earth to an even larger life of committed service to the under-served and to the hopeful.” In other words, her spirit of racial altruism lives on.