WESTMINSTER -- Although Rodney King was beaten more than 3,000 miles away, students at Western Maryland College talked Tuesday night about his beating and the trial of the officers charged in the incident as if those things happened down the block.
Racism, police brutality and society's injustices were discussed by more than six dozen black and white students and staff members congregated in the small meeting room of the Black Student Union, which organized the forum.
Much discussion centered on the overzealous use of force, the lack of black members on the jury, the attention paid to slow-motion replays of the beating.
The students, like many others across the nation, were shocked by the what they saw on the videotape.
"The police have a free ticket to do whatever they want. The poor people don't have the power to get attention. Their only alternative is to go out and riot to get people's attention," said Damon Lewis.
"When I saw that videotape I really became fearful because it sent a message that it was OK to beat a black male," said Donna Cooper, moderator of the discussion. "I really believed in the system, but now I don't."
Ellen Gross said her brother had been beaten up by Baltimore County police after they pulled him over for drunken driving. She said he had been a little belligerent but didn't deserve the beating.
As the meeting wore on, the focus shifted to the injustices of American society, its materialism and institutionalized racism.
"It is not just a racial issue. It is a civil rights issue. People have to be concerned when somebody is beaten by police," said Annessa Bartley, a black student.
"Most of the people in this room don't know what it is like to be treated by police," said James Martin, a black student. "You don't know what is like to be stopped by a policeman for something you know you haven't done: 'Is this the night I am going to jail?' "
The discussion also touched on the potential for a similar incident to happen at the college.
"This campus is not distinct from what happened. Things have been ignored on this campus. You can talk about the Rodney King incident, but we are right here," said Corbett Logan.
Several students criticized the news media for emphasizing the fact that many burnt-out businesses in Los Angeles were owned by Koreans.
"I heard a figure that 50 percent of the businesses that were burnt out were black-owned," said Damon Lewis.
Other students said the repeated televising of the beating of a white truck driver helped to get the rest of nation to pay attention to the problems of South Central Los Angeles.
Several said they found it ironic that when blacks were victimized by others, there wasn't much attention paid to them. However, when white people become victims, it is perceived as a problem that needs to be addressed.