This is a story about the racist conspiracy to destroy black men.
J.A. moved into Baltimore County last year and when he did, three terrible things happened to him; terrible things that he attributes to a racist conspiracy to ruin his life.
"I came out here from the city, man, and I just never dreamed people could be so cruel," he said.
"I didn't know the white man hated the black man this much. I mean, I knew he didn't like us, but I didn't know he hated us this much until I moved into Baltimore County."
"My fiancee and I thought we were moving out here for a better life," said J.A. "But instead, we moved into a snakepit. My life has been hell."
The first terrible thing that happened to J.A. occurred on his first day in the county. There was an unexpected mix-up at the rental office of his new apartment building and he could not move in as scheduled. J.A. thought the rental office should have called him. They said they tried. In any event, he and his fiancee, who was one month pregnant at the time, spent a miserable night huddled with their possessions in a rented truck.
The second terrible thing occurred several months later. A Baltimore County police officer stopped J.A. for a traffic violation, charged him with driving while intoxicated, locked him up, and impounded his car. Later, a county judge ruled that the stop was illegal and J.A. was found not guilty on all charges. But by that time, the company that had towed his car for the county had sold it. To date, no one has been able to locate the missing car.
Finally, we get to the third terrible thing and in J.A.'s eyes, it is the most terrible of all. The county contends that J.A. and his fiancee have histories of alcoholism and neglect of their child, and so last spring they placed the couple's one-year-old daughter in a foster home pending a custody hearing next week. J.A. believes the charges against him are all lies and would not have been brought had he been white.
"You see," he said, "they know that a baby enlightens one's life. It gives a person more purpose for living and they don't want me to have that. They don't want me to have joy in my life. They don't even want me to have a car. They know that if you have a car you're in a much better position to live economically."
J.A. is 37 years old and well spoken. He is slightly built and has a deep, rich, radio announcer's voice. He grew up in Baltimore, attended two years of college, and served in the Air Force. He subscribes to magazines about flying, horse back riding, electronics, birds, finance, and black affairs.
He receives public assistance because, he says, he is "slightly autistic" and cannot hold a job. But it appears he may not be autistic in the clinical sense, but "shy and withdrawn around people."
"I just have trouble holding on to a job," he elaborated. "It's a social weakness, not knowing what to say sometimes, being apart. You can't hold a job unless you can interact well with people."
But J.A. isn't shy in his efforts to fight the racist conspiracy to ruin black men.
He has written to civil rights groups, legal clinics, the governor, the president of the United States, and to every major television station in the area. He has pleaded his case on radio call-in talk shows and twice he has held a one-man rally in Towson.
Yesterday, he showed me documents and letters that proved, at the very least, that he is not just imagining things: his apartment really was not ready on time, his car really disappeared after an arrest, his daughter really is in a foster home.
"But why," I asked him, "do you attribute your problems to a racist conspiracy?"
"Because," he insisted, "white people in the county never wanted black people out here anyway. It's a federal law that they have to let you out here. But any chance they get, they'll mess you over. I've spoken about this with other blacks and they all say the same thing, they have all had the same problems."
The documents indicate officialdom may have been insensitive or clumsy or out-and-out wrong. But J.A. has not been blameless, either.
And so, we have in J.A.'s case the classic tug of war in the debate over the racist conspiracy to destroy black men: Racism in America is a fact. There is ample statistical and anecdotal evidence that black men often are harshly treated at every level and in every corner of society. But at some point each individual must become responsible for his own fate, even in a hostile society.
At some point, an individual builds his own hell.