Mob violence seems to rule today

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2000

My hometown basketball team won the championship Monday night. L.A.'s Lakers topped Indiana's Pacers, claiming the trophy in a fizzy shower of confetti and champagne. I confess that when the final buzzer sounded, I acted a total fool. Cranked Randy Newman's ``I Love L.A.'' so loud it must have registered on the Richter scale. Razzed the local Pacers fan into a coma. Opened a window and howled at the moon.

Yet somehow I managed to express all that euphoria without causing any property damage. So can someone explain why several hundred people in downtown L.A. were unable to do likewise? Why their ``joy'' devolved into a riot that caused extensive property damage and left at least a dozen people with minor injuries?

I'm sorry, but I can't quite get the ``logic'' that says, I'm happy my team won, so I'll just throw a brick through a plate-glass window.

This is a relatively new twist. We didn't always celebrate sports victories by torching police cars, but evidently, something in the zeitgeist began to change somewhere in the 1980s. The years between then and now have seen sports championships punctuated by rioting in Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. One is reminded of Europe's soccer hooligans, whose bash-and-break behavior has made them notorious on that continent and this one.

If there's a consensus about why that sort of thing is becoming more commonplace on this side of the world, I'm not aware of it. There seems no shortage of speculation, though. One of the talking heads on television Tuesday blamed the violence on a lack of impulse control.

Me, I prefer a less academic term: Anything goes.

Somehow, in the last decade or so, this seems to have become the operating credo of certain of our fellow Americans, particularly young, testosterone-fueled ones. It's not just sports rioting that makes me feel this way. It's several other relatively recent acts of mob violence that seem to lack any obvious precipitating cause, that spring upon us from nowhere, apropos of nothing in particular.

I mean, the last L.A. riot at least had a proximate, easily understood cause - anger over a jury verdict. This one doesn't. In that it's not unlike a growing number of relatively recent mob episodes. Not unlike Tailhook, where military aviators forced women to walk a gauntlet of sexual harassment, not unlike what happened in Central Park last week when a group of men groped and disrobed women who had come out for a parade.

You watch this stuff happen and you get this ominous sense that some people think they're just dancing at the end of days, getting in a few last kicks before the apocalypse. There's an end times hedonism to it, a bunch of punks gathered emboldened by mob anonymity and feeling as if the rules no longer apply. Can anyone be surprised that things begin to burn? The old order - decency, respect, restraint - blackens in the flame of the new, crumbles under the heel of thugs who have never known accountability, who have come of age at a time when schools and homes have become - been made to be? - rules-free zones, judgment-free areas.

And the rest of us too scared - or maybe too damned ``enlightened'' - to stop them.

I don't mind telling you that I'm sick of it. The connective tissue of community, the thing that binds you and me to the greater we, is at risk anytime we can't celebrate a sports victory or go to a parade together in safety and in peace.

We have a choice, then. We can either stay home, confined to new ``communities'' that exist only in cyberspace, or rescue the old ones. The seeds of that rescue lay with the teachers, the preachers and the parents of kids who are, even now, coming of age in rules-free zones, even now learning the steps to the dance at the end of days.

Somehow, they've heard that anything goes. It's time we taught them that ``anything'' does not.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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