No excuse for violence

RACIAL violence or repression in a community must be condemned and its perpetrators prosecuted, so that there can be no doubt that racism will not be tolerated. This impulsion to stop racism in its tracks lies behind the response of officials (not always to universal approval) condemning recent incidents: the beating of three black men by whites in the Howard Beach section of Queens, the order by a Louisiana sheriff that blacks passing through white neighborhoods be routinely stopped, the hazing of a black cadet at the Citadel military academy, and attacks on black students at other campuses this fall.

It would be a mistake to pass over any of these incidents as isolated cases or otherwise excuse them in any way. It would also be a mistake to deduce from them the notion that there is a rebirth of racism in America.

Tragically, too much racial hatred persists. Still, it would not be fair to conclude that the progress in attitudes over the last 20 years - that is, the liberalization of attitudes about race and the acceptance of cultural pluralism begun by the great civil rights drive of the 1960s - has suddenly stalled or reversed itself.

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It could be argued that the underlying hateful attitudes of many people have remained unchanged and that, instead, it has become generally socially unacceptable to admit bigotry. If this, however, suggests a persistent collective vigilance about racism in society, this too would be a progressive sign. Paradoxically, the greater tolerance is emerging most discernibly among the young, who happen also to be those most prone to violent acts.

It may be even more disappointing to consider the occurrence of violence in our communities at this time of year, which for many Americans is supposed to be the season of peace.

But this is the case. And not just violence occasioned by ethnic origin or race. There is violence against the elderly. Against children, women, homosexuals. All of it deplorable.

One can look to other factors as related to racial violence: fear of crime, a falling off by a White House administration's commitment to civil rights, a glorifying of Rambo-like vigilantism, a feeling that the criminal-justice system is failing. These should be dealt with.

These factors cannot, however, be invoked as excuses for any individual acts of violence.

There is no excuse for violence.

Man's inhumanity to man has not been newly discovered in late December 1986.

We have, nonetheless, the opportunity to look to a more resolute confrontation of racial and other biases, in our own hearts as well as in actions of others in our communities, in the new year ahead.

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