AMERICANS SHOULD know by now that race riots aren't really about the specific incident that sparked the violence. The National Guard had to be brought in after 11 people were injured during rioting in St. Petersburg, Fla., that followed the fatal shooting Thursday of a black motorist by a white police officer. African Americans questioned not only the officer's need to shoot the unarmed man, but also whether they could expect justice if the policeman did wrong.
That skepticism isn't about one police officer who may have made a mistake; it's about a lack of faith in an American criminal justice system that 30 years after the civil rights movement is still viewed as racist by many blacks. Their mistrust is largely based on the disproportionate number of black men in prison and anecdotes about dozens of police abuse victims like Rodney King. As a result, distrust of police forces, the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies is as endemic in the black community as it is among white militants.