B y J e f f S m i t h
ALL THE FINGERS gesturing in and around Tucson High School today are not advising their beholders to bugger-off. Some are flashing gang signs; a few are giving the universal symbol for "We're number one," which a certain percentage of humans will do whenever they see a video camera, even if they're really number two or even 40; but most of the current digitizing is being devoted to pointing the finger of blame at anybody but yourself, for the so-called riot that drew so much flak and attention to the THS campus last week.
The Tucson Unified School District administration has been blaming the Tucson Police Department. The parents are blaming the administration. The kids are blaming the hall monitors--ever the pariahs and suspected suck-ups of any high school campus. And the cops, while they would doubtless love to hang the whole mess around the necks of the district brass who have implied that the cops over-reacted, are instead blaming it on the kids. This of course is the only option available to the police, since leveling blame and alleging responsibility toward anyone but the perpetrators smacks of that coddling, liberal excuse that there are not bad children, only bad parents. Or by the doctrine of in loco parentis, bad educators.
What all this finger-pointing and name-calling and post-morteming tells me is that there was a lot more smoke than fire to the disturbance at THS. Which is good news. As an alumnus of that fine old institution, I am sentimentally committed to the belief that it still represents a cross-section of, and an exemplar of hope for, the real world.
What happened, in the off-chance you've just come out of a coma, is that a few kids got into a couple three fistfights and somewhere around 300 other kids hung around watching, and somebody called 911, and then somebody else called 911, and a bunch of cops showed up to break up the fracas, then pretty quick a whole shitload of cops in riot gear hit the beach, and the police choppers began circling and the press descended in full force, and...
Well, what would you call it if you'd just dispatched your entire news team and diverted your trafficopter from rush-hour duty? Or put out a call on the police radio for every available patrol car and officer in the entire city, including pulling the ones in court waiting to testify against actual miscreants?
I think you'd call it a riot.
If you were a TV news director and just called it a fistfight, you'd worry all your viewers would hit the remote until they found a channel that did call it a riot.
I'm not really trying to be overly harsh here. Hell, if an old friend called from Philly tomorrow and asked me what was up at our alma mater, I might be inclined to tell him they had a riot there last week. It just makes a better story.
But not a more accurate one.
After all, there were just 13 arrests made among the reported 300-odd students milling around the school, while a couple here and there threw hooks and put the shoes to one another: You get more misdirected violence and mob-psyched bystanders at every football game of the season.
What you don't get is 150 police officers in SWAT gear, riot gear, in the air, at the other end of Rex-the-Wonderdog's leash. It isn't every day you see a show-of-force on such a grand scale in Tucson.
From a human standpoint I can see how tempting it was to haul all those cop toys out of the attic, put them on, take them out and play with them.
But from a kid standpoint I can see where this would be just the excuse needed to go to rioting.
Hey! The cops are carrying shields and clubs: This must be a riot. I must behave appropriately.
To understand how to better deal with such happenings the next time out, one needs to remember this:
Hormone-toxic teenagers can be anything and everything their chemical demons whisper in their ears. And, though it ought not require this reminder: Calm has a more calming influence than 150 cops in riot gear.
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