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Article Last Updated: Thursday, March 06, 2003 - 6:37:03 PM PST

Give looting a chance

High school protesters disgrace themselves and their cause

Even before "peace" protesters from Canoga Park High School looted a gas station convenience store Wednesday, their display was already a Lawless and hypocritical sham.

Peace is a noble cause, just as protest is a noble exercise of constitutional freedoms. But hundreds of students walking out of class is neither noble nor responsible, it's a disgrace -- and vandalism is a crime.

Rather than drawing attention to an important message, the students only exposed their own immaturity -- and worse, brought into question the sincerity of their beliefs.

When used properly, civil disobedience has an important role in the democratic process. During the civil rights era, protesters boldly violated unjust segregation laws and braved the consequences. Through their suffering, the injustices they saw became visible to the entire nation.

But truancy laws requiring minors to be in school are hardly unjust, nor do they bear any relation to U.S. foreign policy on Iraq.

The students who skipped class on Wednesday weren't doing so to bring about more justice through their own suffering. Hardly. Most were posturing to shirk their responsibilities.

Had they wanted a credible protest, one that would have commanded public respect instead of outrage, the students would have held their march before school or after.

But outside organizers, who wanted as large a rally as possible, no doubt realized that they could get a bigger turnout if the protest coincided with class time. The result was that in addition to sincere protesters, the march was joined by a good number of troublemakers, there only to have a good time.

And so they did, at Masood Behroozi's gas station convenience store, toppling displays, stealing candy bars and other items, and breaking glass.

"I don't really care about the material loss," said Behroozi. "I'm just sad in my heart they would do this."

Behroozi's disappointment in the behavior of these American students is understandable. A Baha'i, he and his family fled their native Iran to escape religious persecution.

Canoga Park High Principal Dennis Thompson seemed forgiving that so many of his students cut class to send a message that they oppose war in Iraq, but he was right in noting that their "message was not heard because of the actions of just a few kids."

Thompson visited Behroozi on Thursday to apologize and to invite him to the school to share his experiences with students. The principal has promised to discipline students for their misconduct, and presumably that includes students who were truant.

But the real problem goes deeper, right to the mind-set of these teenagers. The San Fernando Valley and nearby communities are populated by thousands of people -- many in their own families probably -- who have faced persecution, discrimination and injustice.

Learning about how people who have tasted real suffering and come through stronger and more committed to noble values ought to become part of the educational process for Canoga Park High's students and for all students in our community.

As Behroozi put it, "I know they are kids and they are young, but if they really love peace, they should show that they at least believe what they say."

©Copyright 2003, Los Angeles Daily News (CA, USA)

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