MAXWELL:  African-Americans’ shameful behavior insults Martin Luther King Jr.

1/23/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Another Martin Luther King Jr. Day has come and gone, and, again, too many African-Americans nationwide have trashed King’s dream and everything he fought and died for.

St. Petersburg, where I live and work, is an example of a city where blacks acted shamefully on King’s holiday. At least five brawls erupted, and bottles and rocks were tossed at police officers as hundreds of people gathered Monday night in the black community following the annual parade honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Police say three cruisers were damaged. The trunk and hood of two of the vehicles were dented, and a rock or brick broke the windshield of another. Juveniles also tried to flip another police car. Officers made four arrests on charges of disorderly conduct and possession of cocaine.

If such behavior were not bad enough, the police department’s lackadaisical and permissive attitude toward it is abominable. Here is what Maj. Cedric Gordon, a black officer in charge of patrolling the area where the disturbance occurred, told the St. Petersburg Times: “I would describe the crowd as juveniles and young adults having what they consider wholesome fun.”

Wholesome fun?

Is this man, along with his “juveniles” and “young adults,” out of his mind? Nothing is wholesome about throwing rocks, bottles and bricks at police cars. Nothing is wholesome about about trying to flip a police cruiser. And absolutely nothing is wholesome about throwing objects at police officers themselves. Such behavior is stupid. It is potentially deadly. Is this what Gordon calls fun?

At the very least, Gordon should apologize to everyone who believes in King’s dream for America. Further downplaying the seriousness of the trouble, Gordon said: “It wasn’t like there was 40,000 people out there in a melee.” No, as matter of fact, only several hundred people were in the crowds, which makes the disturbance more troubling when it is compared to, say, the millennium celebration in New York’s Times Square, where more than 2-million revelers gathered. There, the police made a mere 14 arrests.

Imagine that: 2-million people. Fourteen arrests.

Why the low number? Two main reasons: First, despite its concern about public perceptions that it is often brutal, the NYPD did not compromise its responsibilities to serve and protect. Cops were everywhere. And revelers knew that the officers meant to keep the peace and keep everyone as safe as possible. Second, nearly every millennium reveler in Manhattan (I was one) was motivated by goodwill _ not by a desire to raise Cain.

Because of race riots in St. Petersburg several years ago and lingering antagonisms, officials have become too permissive. As a result of such permissiveness, the King holiday has turned into a day of shame.

If St. Petersburg police officials would tell the truth, taxpayers would know that many parts of the area reeked of pot and crack, that far more than four fights broke out, that many young thugs were out looking for trouble (and found it), that many businesses could not operate because teenagers blocked entrances unnecessarily, that hundreds of people had open containers of alcohol, that revelers urinated in people’s yards.

None of this self-destructive behavior and black-on-black criminality has anything to do with honoring King. The day has become an excuse to have yet another block party that invariably turns violent.

Many black leaders nationwide complain that few white people attend King events, especially those held in black neighborhoods. Why would whites want to attend something that might endanger them and their loved ones?

If we want the rest of the world to embrace King’s enduring dream and celebrate his holiday, we must learn how to act. We must show others that we _ African-Americans _ respect King. Getting drunk, smoking dope, fighting and trying to flip police cruisers smear King’s legacy and mock the special day honoring this great man who won the Nobel Peace Prize.