In October, in St. Petersburg, Fla., an African American teen-ager was shot by a police officer.
The circumstances were indeed questionable because the officer shot at the youth some three times through the windshield of the car he was driving. Rioting followed. The people of that community were justifiably outraged. However, what they did then, and what they did last week after the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing was not justified. I speak from experience because I was in Los Angeles in April of 1992 and what they did then was understandable, but not justifiable.
I realize at this point that the words of Dr. Martin Luther King must seem like platitudes, but violence is not the solution. And it is certainly not the solution when people burn their own residences, pillage their own stores, and injure or kill their ow n neighbors. What Dr. King urged everyone to do was to mobilize, organize and franchise. No matter what or who the adversary was, Dr. King stressed the importance of nonviolence, not only to expose the delusion of the perpetrator, but to reassure the vict im that the road to success never passed by way of violence.
The knee-jerk reaction in St. Petersburg was understandable from a people who repeatedly cry out for help and no one answers; they will find a way to be reckoned with. This is what happened in St. Petersburg and it was what happened in Los Angeles. Howev er, in neither case should the force to be reckoned with be violence upon your own community.
It made no sense in Los Angeles and it makes no sense in St. Petersburg. In Los Angeles, places and memories that I recall as a child disappeared in billows of black, choking smoke. I am sure this too occurred for many in St. Petersburg. I am certain the violence did not send the message, nor did the angry youth and savage looters make their mark on the conscience of America.
What will result from the violence visited upon your own community? Among the wake of burned out shells of buildings, frustrated souls grumble about how things will never change. Misguided youth blame their forefathers for being weak and shortsighted. Mot hers pray for the return of their fallen sons and fathers wonder where they had gone wrong. Memories that have gone up in smoke drift away with dreams of a future that will never be realized. When people riot and do not vote, when people turn their backs and do not help, when people close their eyes for fear of seeing, self-destruction may seem like the only alternative. But rest assured, there are no worst scenarios.
Self-destructed communities cannot blame outsiders, but must look to within for solace and solutions. Community is created when cohesive actions are taken by individuals for the betterment of the whole. What happened to the youth in St. Petersburg was wro ng. No 18-year-old man should die of gunshot wounds. How that community reacted was wrong. No one should see the destruction of their neighborhood at the hands of a neighbor.
David H. Benton is a third-year law student, member of the ASUA President's Cabinet and Arizona Students' Association board member. His column, 'Another Perspective,' appears Tuesday.