The quote in the title of this piece is from Bobby Green, one of four black people who were heroes in the LA riots of twenty years ago. But there’s no “just” about it; the acts were rays of hope in an otherwise bleak picture.
I remember these people very, very well. They are the sort of heroes that so often emerge in a crisis. Before the events transpire they usually seem quite ordinary, and yet something inside them makes them act in an extraordinary manner.
One of the things about such people is that they almost never see themselves as anything special. Typical comments are “I was just doing what had to be done;” “It was what anyone would do.” But I don’t think that most people would purposely go to the scene of a vicious attack by a mob and try to rescue the victim, as Titus Murphy and his girlfriend Terri Barnett did, and where they encountered other rescuers Bobby Green and Lei Yuille.
Two men, two women, all black, as was the mob attacking white truck driver Reginald Denny and bashing his head in with a brick in a reaction to the Rodney King verdict. Murphy and Barnett had been watching the scene on TV when Murphy had a reaction typical of those brave souls who wade into danger to rescue others [emphasis mine]:
“When this gentleman was getting beat something was just telling me this isn’t right, this isn’t what it’s all about,” he told Yahoo News 20 years later. “When he got hit in the head with the brick something told me to go down there. I just reacted.”
The details of the rescue are fascinating; I’d not read them before:
Murphy saw that Denny had managed to drag himself back into the cab of the truck, which was moving very slowly. Murphy ran to the passenger side and jumped on the running board; he saw a woman named Lei Yuille comforting Denny inside the cab. Just then, a hulking guy named Bobby Green leaped on the running board of the other side. The two stared at each other through the windows, each fearing the other was a rioter.
“I asked him, ‘Who are you? What are you going to do?’” Murphy says. “He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I didn’t know he was thinking the same thing I was thinking. I figured I had to take him on, he figured he had to take me on. We were both over 6 feet tall. I told him I was going to drive the truck and he said, ‘I’m a truck driver.’ That was the end of that.”
Green jumped in and drove the massive truck a terrifying three miles to the hospital, with Murphy’s girlfriend Barnett guiding the way by driving in the car in front. Murphy clung to the outside of the truck for the entire journey, feigning to be a rioter by pounding on the outside of the vehicle as if he had taken it for loot.
“There were cars approaching us and swinging bats and sticks and guns and stuff,” he said. “I had to pretend that I was part of the riot so that the people in the cars wouldn’t try to take us on or try to take advantage of the truck again. I started beating on the truck like it was mine. The trick really worked.”
From his position on the running board, Murphy was also able to guide Green, who couldn’t see through the truck’s cracked windows. “Each one of us could not carry on the task without the other,” says Murphy. “Bobby couldn’t drive the truck without me on the outside. Mr. Denny was attended to from the inside [by Yuille], and we couldn’t drive the truck without Terry in the front of us.”
The result was a perfect collaboration. “We all came together as a team,” he says. “It was like it was meant to be.”
Although Denny lived, he is permanently brain-damaged.
As for Murphy, in interviews these days he says there’s only one race—the human race—and that he never though of Denny’s race when he rescued him.
And there there’s Al Sharpton, a guy who’s done plenty to foment and capitalize on a very different feeling. He made the usual calls for calm in the wake of the anniversary and the Trayvon Martin killing.