The offensive defense of Tyson's apologists


March 01, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

They have come to save Mike Tyson.

Alan Dershowitz, the man who got Claus von Bulow off, the lawyer/best-selling author/Harvard professor who supposedly takes only cases that are socially significant, is now heading Tyson's appeal effort.

OK. Everyone deserves a lawyer. That's America.

But if Dershowitz, in rushing to spring Tyson, tries to claim any socially redeeming value, he will be extending the chutzpah envelope into uncharted territory.

Still, if it were Dershowitz alone or even Dershowitz and all the high-priced lawyers money can buy combined, that would be one thing.

Here are 10,000 other things:

Ten thousand is the number of people who have reportedly signed a petition being circulated by a group calling itself the "National Committee for Mercy for Mike Tyson."

Honest to God.

It gets worse. The people behind the petition are a group of

black clergymen belonging to the Missionary Baptist Ministers Alliance. The ministers are gathering signatures -- their goal is 100,000 -- to be dropped on the desk of Judge Patricia J. Gifford, who will sentence Tyson on March 26. The petition asks for a suspended sentence.

You want to know why? Allow me to quote from the petition: "We ask the court to consider that Mr. Tyson is one of a very few in number of modern-day African- American heroes. It is very difficult, no matter what the reason, to see a fallen hero and not be affected."

Surprisingly, I had a slightly different reaction to the Tyson case. I find it hard not to be affected when a rich and powerful man -- or, for that matter, any man -- rapes an 18-year-old woman -- or, for that matter, any woman.

I think many of us were affected deeply. Tyson took advantage of his position and fame to not even seduce, but rather to force himself on someone little more than a girl who would testify he laughed at her pain.

Yes, we were affected.

And we were offended.

We were offended by the defense, which painted Tyson so monstrously in order to suggest that anyone who went off with him should expect to be raped or worse.

We were offended by the reliably offensive Donald Trump, who has floated a plan whereby Tyson would serve no time but would hand over his future earnings to benefit rape victims. Oh, and maybe his earnings would also benefit Trump and his overextended casino empire. Can someone shut this man up?

We were offended by the African-American ministers who prayed for "our brother" but not for "our sister." In a case that some would suggest unfairly targets a black man, it must be pointed out that his victim was a black woman competing in the Miss Black America contest. How can this be a racial issue?

It has been reported that Tyson contributed to the building of churches for this ministry, and that the ministers' actions are no more than a quid pro quo. That would be cynical and corrupt. But it would actually be preferable to the idea that the ministers' motives are pure, meaning these men of God would actually judge a rapist to be a hero.

Imagine Tyson as a hero if you can.

He was a hero only in the ring, and even there he betrayed his gift. How else can you explain that he would lose his title to a clown like Buster Douglas, whose reign ended with his next fight? Tyson gave his title away because he didn't understand he had to work to keep it.

And Tyson threw his life away outside the ring because he didn't believe the rules applied to him. OK, he grew up in mean streets, but so have many others. The thing is, Tyson stayed mean. The thing is, Tyson never learned to value what he had gained.

It is, yes, a modern-day American tragedy. It is, yes, a success story gone sour.

But it is not the story of a hero.

And Tyson's case is not one that calls for ministers to rush to his side. Let them rush to the side of Desiree Washington.

There are so many causes more worthy than Mike Tyson's. There are youngsters shooting youngsters in our schools. These are tragedies that suggest prayer vigils and petitions and protest marches. These are the youngsters for whom Tyson probably already serves as a role model. We need different role models. One can properly pray for Tyson's redemption, not for a suspended sentence.

In Indianapolis, there is now a petition to counter the Tyson effort. At last count, around 500 signatures had been gathered demanding that Tyson do prison time.

Judge Gifford is not likely to be swayed by either group of petitioners. What she is likely to do is to put Tyson away, for perhaps 10 to 12 years. That would not be a heroic act, only a just one.

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