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Things are not likely to get much worse. There isn't much that's worse than a society that pretends to be civilized and free while brutalizing its elders and slaughtering its young.

A few days ago came the astonishing news that a black man had put his hands on Rosa Parks. Some moral cipher, reeking of alcohol, had invaded the home of the 81-year-old mother of the civil rights movement, had pummeled her until she gave up her money, and then fled, leaving her bruised and shaken but no less stoic and dignified than in 1955 when a bus driver in Montgomery, Ala., told her to get up and give her seat to a white person and she softly replied no, there will be no more of that.Our grief and our shame are the residue of the lessons we have managed not to learn from Mrs. Parks. We bought into her defiance. Oh yes, we liked that so much we made it fashionable. By the mid-1960s defiance had swept the land. But we never mastered the inner strength, the core values and the self-respect that gave the defiance of Mrs. Parks such power.

The consequences have been tragic in the extreme. Toward the end of last week came the no longer astonishing news that a 14-year-old girl on Chicago's South Side had been murdered by an 11-year-old boy. He was then murdered himself, apparently by members of his own gang.

We are in the dark night of the post-civil rights era. The wars against segregation have been won, but we are lost. With the violence and degradation into which so many of our people have fallen, we have disgraced the legacy of Rosa Parks.

"I had never been hit in that manner in my life," Mrs. Parks said last week. It was a comment that once would have been inconceivable. "I was screaming," she said, "and trying to ask him not to hit me."

On that December afternoon in Montgomery nearly 40 years ago, Mrs. Parks remained seated in the face of the exasperated glare of bus driver J.P. Blake. She remained seated even as three less courageous blacks dutifully rose and shuffled off to stand in the rear of the crowded bus. She remained seated as the nearly apoplectic Blake went off in search of a policeman to arrest her.

Mrs. Parks knew that she, personally, would reap only grief from her defiance. But she fought for the generations who were coming behind her.

Her bequest has been perverted. She did not fight so those future generations would be free to ingest endless tons of dope, to populate the nation's streets with armies of all-but-abandoned children, or to engage in a spectacular orgy of killing in which the vast majority of the victims just happen to be other blacks, many of them infants and children.

After she was attacked last week, Mrs. Parks said, "In these times none of us seems to be safe from this type of treatment and violation by a sick-minded person. . . . We still have a long way to go, and so many of our children are going astray."

Anyone who believes that violence and degradation are limited to blacks is deluded. America has searched but never yet found a way to confine its evils to the ghetto.

So we have white children killing white children, and we have a crazy man with a rifle committing murder in New York's Rockefeller Center, and in general we have a society drenched in violence, physical and otherwise. But the problems at the moment are most acute and most deadly among blacks. The most effective solutions will have to come from blacks.

When Rosa Parks decided, beneath the looming presence of J.P. Blake, that she had had enough, she taught the entire country a lesson. Now it is time for new leadership to arise and say, again, enough.

It is time to grab the felons and the freaks and let them know in the most forceful terms possible that they will not be allowed to capture the soul of black America.

That is the primary challenge of the next phase of the civil rights movement. It is the way to recapture the high ground, to salvage the children, and to teach the country once again a great and valuable lesson.