While local and federal authorities were still trying to determine what was behind last week's sniper attack on the Urban League's Vernon Jordan, one black leader was already sure he knew.

It was, said Jesse Jackson of Operation PUSH, a "political statement," an act of "genocide," evidence of a "hit list" against black leaders.

But he quickly added that he hoped "our black brothers and sisters around the country would not panic and go from genocide to suicide and massive rage."

A fair number of observers, black as well as white, saw the Jackson remarks as the sort of demagoguery that could well incite the very rioting he hoped would not occur.

In an interview this week, Jackson said he stood by both elements of his Fort Wayne remarks.

"There is always a struggle, when black leaders are shot, to isolate and localize," he said. "But while some people tend to isolate, I tend to correlate. That's my view of history."

"When Martin [Luther King Jr.] was shot, they said it was the work of a crazy white man. We said it was a conspiracy. When we spoke of spy rings and hit lists, they called it paranoia. But it turns out there were spy rings and hit lists, and that they were led by the government. These people are not going to make me think I'm crazy because I see the way they operate."

Jackson said he was equally serious in his hope that the shooting of Jordan would not lead to the mass rioting that followed the slaying of Dr. King.

"The combination of rioting and nonvoting on the part of blacks would usher in an era of repression and divert attention from what is happening in the courts and in the Congress. Nobody can discuss the report of conference committees while riots are going on.

"I understand the feelings behind riots. I know that there is some gratification in having the courage to rebel, but as soon as the dust settles, the short-term pleasure becomes long-term pain.

"Look at what happened in 1968. Martin was killed, and then came rioting across the country, followed by racial and political polarization. The liberals concluded that enlightened social programs don't work, and blacks concluded that there was no difference between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.

"As a result, the Liberal Party drained off a million votes in California alone, and Nixon was elected. Riots in 1980 would do the same thing, and Ronald Reagan will arrive to save the people."

Jackson says the idea has grown in the black community that riots are the only thing that can focus national attention on the plight of blacks.

"That's not entirely true," he argues. "Mass rioting can get attention, true enough, but so, too, can mass marching, mass boycotts and mass voting. The bottom-line choice is between passion and politics."

But if Jackson is firm in his belief that passion -- rioting -- is the wrong choice for black America, he also is adamant in his view that the attack on Jordan was, at bottom, an attack on black leadership, not just an isolated, random occurrence or the "domestic-type thing" that Fort Wayne officials hint.

"You remember how at first they were talking about Vernon being shot with a handgun and it turned out to be a 30.06 deer rifle? Let me tell you how the change came about.

"When they first took Vernon to the hospital, it became obvious to a black policeman there that they didn't know who he was. When he told them it was Vernon Jordan, they still didn't know who he was.

"So this brother got concerned and called Dr. [Jeff] Towles, the most respected surgeon in Fort Wayne. Towles examined Vernon and saw the size of the wound and knew that it was something other than what they were saying.

"You have to understand that city officials had different priorities. Their first priority was to keep the city calm; their second was to protect the integrity of their police force, and third to protect the reputation of the city. If that had been a white doctor, isn't it conceivable that they could have gotten him to go along with the handgun theory in the interest of civil peace?

"There's no doubt in my mind: Vernon owes his life to that black policeman."