bill berry

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There but for the Grace of God go I

On April 29, 1992, I was hosting a dinner for 24 people at my favorite San Francisco restaurant, Square One (Hi Joyce G). It was a closing dinner commemorating a bond deal we had recently completed.

While there was a business purpose, the event was normal and mostly a social occasion. There were four or five tables, each having their own conversations. Along with one of our analysts, I was the only other black person in the room.

Situation: normal.

Except this evening. We didn’t know it when the dinner was planned. Hell, we didn’t know it until well into the festivities.

Know what, exactly?

Well, this was the day the Rodney King verdict came down. Not that Rodney was guilty, etc. No. The verdict was that the white policemen. Who beat the hell out of Rodney King. On video. Seen by the world. Well, those cops were found one-hundred-percent completely, absolutely, totally innocent.

So there was civil disobedience. Riots. I don’t know. We didn’t know. And it was a long time ago now.

What I do remember was someone heard what was happening out there and that became a topic at our tables.

At one point, one of my friends, a bond lawyer, turned to me and said, “Bill, what do you think?”

It was an E.F. Hutton Moment. The commercials said, “When E.F. Hutton talks, everybody listens.”

The room grew quiet. Everyone, at all the tables, turned, looked at me, and waited for my answer.

I said, “There but for the Grace of God go I.

To immediate protestations. “No way.” “How can you say that?” “You’re not Rodney King!”

“Well, maybe,” I said. “But I’ve been stopped by the police for no reason. In Palo Alto! I’m black. The same things have happened to me. And could have gotten out of hand. There but for…”

I’m not sure when or how, but dinner returned to normal. We had a good time together. We commemorated the deal. And we went on as usual.

Over twenty years later, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress at all.