Do The Right Thing is tragic, not only because it ends in death and destruction, but because both of these things were preventable. Sal could have easily placated his customers by placing a few pictures of African Americans on his wall. He could have been politer to Radio Raheem, but he had a tendency to treat his black customers as if they were inferior. Raheem, for his part, could have turned his radio off when he entered Sal’s shop. He could have chosen to boycott Sal’s place without resorting to violence. Yet he chose, instead, to confront Sal and to stand by while his partner nearly killed him.
The police could have reacted more fairly and calmly. They could have saved Sal without killing anyone, but they used excessive force. Because of their excess, they caused greater excesses. Instead of simply shutting Sal’s place down until pictures of African Americans were placed on the wall, Radio Raheem’s friends began looting, vandalizing and setting fire to Sal’s shop and possessions.
Before Radio Raheem’s death, racial tension was present, but people of every race lived together and interacted with one another. Many were on good terms with people of other races. Mookie and Tina have a son together. Vito and Mookie have a fast friendship. Jade and Sal have a sort of flirtation. Yet most of these relationships are destroyed along with Sal’s Pizzeria. The black community is so outrages by what has happened to Radio Raheem that they are nearly willing to destroy Korean shops out of vengeance. They stop short, but tensions between races have obviously increased.
Even the relationship between the police and the black community changes. During the first half of the film, the police chuckle at the pranks pulled by some members of the black community, seeming to side with them over a rich white man with an antique car when a few pranksters soak him and his car. In the end, white policemen face off against black youths, hosing them down with firehoses and engaging in a violent struggle. It is not hard to sympathize with any of the character here. Yet it is hard to watch relationships that could have blossomed fall apart due to racial tension and a lack of compassion.