Who can forget that fateful Saturday evening 26 years ago when Daniel England was pipped on the line by Donovan Powell.It was late evening on the final day of Champs when Asafa Powell’s brother performed the unthinkable.The seemingly indomitable high school legend was “famously” defeated on a day when historians were keen to see whether he could perform the feat of Kingston College’s Lennox “Billy” Miller, to win three 200-metre races in Class One at Boys’ Champs.England, running in one of his last events at the famed Championships, was finally dethroned as 200 metres champion.For four years, since he was in Class Two, the Calabar High athlete seemed indomitable.For until 1990, he was unbeaten not only in the 200 metres, but the 400 metres as well, ala Michael Johnson of Olympic fame.It was in the 400 metres that England rose to stardom, four years earlier, when he was in Class Two.There were the typical bouts of frenzied cheers when the popular athlete graced the track to produce a superlative clash.The little man did not appear to be perturbed, even when perennial rivals KC dispatched 200 metres and 400 metres specialists to upstage the mighty one.Quite aptly described as the little man with a big heart, the diminutive Calabar athlete collared and clobbered all and sundry.It was not that he was not tested by other stalwarts.Daniel England simply proved unbeatable against all opposition at Boys’ Champs in the late 1980s.That is, until the start of the new decade when he ran into St Jago High School’s Donovan Powell in the 200 metres.The gun went off and the roar went up. Less than 21 seconds later, a noisy debate replaced the cheers.The two super athletes had crossed the finish line together.After the dust settled and the deliberations and debates eased, Powell was adjudged the winner of one of the most exciting 200-metre races to grace the most magnificent of high school meets in the world.Even with the rare loss in the 200 metres, Daniel England left high school undefeated in the 400 metres.
160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Before the tear gas came the warning. I clearly heard, “This is an illegal assembly. You are ordered to disperse.” The helicopters circled menacingly overhead and I, along with the rest, faced a Hobson’s Choice of bad options. You see, while we were ordered to disperse, we were also surrounded by the police. There was literally nowhere to go. Maybe a backhoe to dig us out, or rescue, deus ex machina, from one of the helicopters. The helicopters supplied no relief — only the tear gas canisters that begat the running, the beatings and the rage. What I’m describing was a riot in Berkeley in the late 1960s. As a survivor of that era, I know something about what happened on Tuesday in MacArthur Park. While “riotology” is not my academic field, living through Berkeley in the ’60s gives me an informal masters, if not a PhD. Typically, a peaceful demonstration turns ugly when people in the back, craving the adrenalin charge of blood and destruction, start throwing rocks and bottles. I have never seen riots start totally unprovoked (not since the days of Bull Conner and the civil-rights movement). The people in the front then bear the brunt of the police violence, while those who started it remain in relative safety. Sometimes protesters riot, and sometimes it is the police who lose control of themselves. This latter seems to have been the case at MacArthur Park. Both sides share a lot in common during a riot. The protesters see the police as nonhuman and the source of unreasonable authority. The police see the protesters (soon to be rioters) as the force of anarchy and chaos. They meet at their mutual inability to see the other as anything but the enemy. This is how good cops hit women, broadcasters, members of the press and people who are just trying to get out of the way. The early 20th century sociologist Gustav LeBon wrote about how the members of a mob join in the energy of the moment and lose their individual sense of self and their own values or morals. This is true of both police and protesters. Once the violence starts, it is easy to get lost in the passion of the moment. It takes tremendous discipline and the willing suppressing of our natural instincts to hold to our own values. This discipline comes from training. Our police were clearly not prepared for what they saw in the park. This is a failure, not so much of the individual police officers, but of leadership. They were not trained for dealing with a largely peaceful group with some violent — and probably inebriated — people. They were trained for civil insurrection. Their leaders, our leaders, called the wrong play from the wrong playbook. Pundits often observe that the military prepares for the previous war. Well, the police are no different. Their use of force was properly designed for urban insurrection, for the Watts Riots or the Rodney King Riots. Thousands of people looting stores, setting fires and beating innocent shop owners might need to be cleared with the kind of authority and level of violence we saw Tuesday. But that level was not appropriate for thousands of peaceful people trapped in front of some provocateurs. Am I prejudging without having been there or before the official reports are issued? Yes. Isn’t that irresponsible? No. The reports and results of investigations will most likely follow the established pattern of blaming a few bad apples among the marchers and a few bad apples among the police. Like Abu Ghraib, no report will place the responsibility at the high level where it belongs — on the playbook and whoever called the play. This was a protest that did not need to become a riot. But it became a police riot because they were given orders to quell an insurrection instead of arresting a few violent thugs. We, the people, deserve better leadership. The police, too, deserve better leadership.— Jonathan Dobrer is a professor of comparative religion at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air. Write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.