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Cartoon misrepresented Virginia Beach riots

The editorial cartoon on page 5 of last Friday's Tech probably went unnoticed or misunderstood by most who saw it. It showed a bottle of "Lily White" suntan lotion, "the official suntan lotion of Virginia Beach" with a grinning Klansman on the label. This refers to the recent Labor Day weekend riots in Virginia Beach, when 100,000 black students looted and vandalized the resort city.

The students were in town for "Greekfest '89," a fraternity and sorority festival. The previous year, around 40,000 students caused problems and city officials were concerned that a repeat might occur. Unfortunately, they adopted a confrontational attitude, putting the National Guard on notice, and in general fostering a climate of apprehension. They cracked down, enforcing public nuisance laws and drinking in public ordinances, making some 500 minor arrests and citations before the violence broke out. This probably contributed to and fostered the development of a riot.

I am reminded of the movie, Do the Right Thing, which was shown on campus this summer. I was bothered by the movie for many reasons, chief of which was that the audience, the majority of whom were black, cheered anytime the blacks in the movie harassed non-blacks. I felt the implication of the movie was that Spike Lee's character "did the right thing" after police killed the black who attacked the pizza store owner earlier. He threw a trash can through the store window, precipitating a riot and the torching of the restaurant by an angry mob.

But the conduct of the Virginia police once violence broke out was commendable. No tear gas was used. No bullets were fired by police. Control was maintained without loss of human life or serious injury. If anybody "did the right thing," it was the police, who, faced with many opportunities to allow anger to encourage them to misuse their authority and power, chose restraint.

Many outsiders portrayed the situation as a racial confrontation. Perhaps the students saw it that way as they vandalized stores, loaded their cars with stolen goods and chanted "fight the power." Perhaps they felt somehow justified because of the deeply-ingrained racist attitudes many in the area hold. But the reality is that the only ones who can truly be blamed for the riot are the students. What gives anyone the right to pillage on a wanton rampage?

As a native Virginian, I am deeply offended when those unfamiliar with what happened callously slap a racist label on my state. These students were not expressing a political will, they were committing crimes. They did not loot stores to prove a point, they did it because it was fun and profitable. Only after the fact did anyone consider that there might be a racial angle to the situation. The fact that the rioters were all black does not excuse them from breaking the law. What would those who feel they are not racist have us do, surrender the streets to an angry mob?

Dave Atkins '90->