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An Unheralded Defense

IN reviewing the jury's verdicts in the Reginald Denny trial, some analysts have focused on the role that mob psychology played in the panel's deliberations. While not absolving Damian Williams and Henry Watson from responsibility for beating Mr. Denny during last year's riots in South Central Los Angeles, the jury found that the rioting that swirled after the acquittals of police officers in the first Rodney King trial reduced their culpability. Hence the acquittals on most charges and the reduction of assault charges from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Yet ``mob psychology'' failed to influence four blacks - two men and two women - who left the safety of their homes, moved through the hostile crowd, and drove Denny to the hospital emergency room.

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Their efforts, according to reports from emergency-room doctors, saved Denny's life and probably prevented the assault charges from becoming murder charges. Mob psychology also failed to prevent other South-Central residents from rescuing motorists of diverse ethnic backgrounds who were stranded in the riot area. One reportedly told the crowd, ``This ain't right; leave him alone,'' as he pulled motorist Takeo Hirata from a car to safety. Another said of his actions, ``I think God told me to get up and go in there.''

These examples indicate the availability of an active defense against mob psychology that deserves at least as much focus as the ``mob psychology'' defense itself.

What is that defense? Put simply, it is an understanding that every person has a right and responsibility to avoid yielding his or her individuality to a mob's illegal or immoral modes of thought and action. This clears the way for the moral activism these people displayed.

We respect the jury's verdicts and the difficult conditions under which they were reached. They represent one group's best effort to come to a just conclusion given the evidence and testimony. As we have noted here, Denny's spirit of forgiveness is remarkable; it should be met less with incredulity and more with emulation. So should the actions of those who refused to yield to mob psychology.

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