All blacks tainted by the atrocities of so very few

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

September 15, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Maybe civil rights groups should issue a formal apolog whenever a black person commits a horrendous crime.

"Dear Sir or Madam," a form letter might say, "It is with profound sorrow that we learned that your [check one] son, daughter, sister, brother, mother or father was murdered, raped, violently assaulted or treated with discourtesy by a member of our race.

"Please believe that the suspect committed this act as an individual. We hope you understand that black people in general, and this organization in particular, do not in any way condone or encourage such acts of violence/discourtesy. Again, we apologize for the actions of this miscreant and we hope that the misdeeds of one individual will not prejudice, in your eyes, the rest of us."

Black leaders, of course, may find this kind of letter both objectionable and unnecessary.

I agree with the objectionable part. In fact, such an apology would only further the notion that the entire black race is somehow responsible for the actions of a few individuals.

But what else can we do to get that message across? Blacks have become so associated with violent crime in the public mind that we may never disentangle the two.

Last week, for instance, this newspaper and most of the broadcast media published the pictures of a man and a teen-ager charged with murder after a car-jacking incident in which a 34-year-old Howard County woman was killed.

Pamela Basu died of injuries received after her arm apparently became entangled in the seat belt of her car and she was dragged over a mile when her attackers tried to escape.

Everyone, needless to say, was horrified by the apparent brutality of the crime.

But a significant number of people also focused on the fact that the suspects were black.

"This is the result," wrote one reader, "of a generation of black leaders who blame everyone for the black condition but themselves. Mr. Hall, I am waiting to hear you excuse this crime."

I spoke at length with a very sincere, very nice woman who feared that the murder would set race relations back.

"I tried to teach my children to understand black people, I tried to have them respect everyone, but then something like this happens . . . " and then she began to cry.

"I just don't want them to be afraid," she concluded.

The reaction to the Basu crime is not unique.

In Florida recently, a white woman received a $50,000 award for workman's compensation because a mugging by a "large black man" had left her unable to work with blacks of any size and description.

Reaction to the brutal assault of a white trucker by a gang of black rioters in Los Angeles all but overshadowed revulsion over the beating of a black motorist at the hands of a gang of white police officers.

And in Boston, a few years ago, Charles Stuart's fictitious story that his wife had been murdered by a black man with thick lips and a raspy voice so enraged that city's police force that they overlooked the obvious suspect -- Stuart himself.

For several months, every thick-lipped black man in Boston was suspect while politicians screamed for the revival of the Massachusetts death penalty.

Obviously, crime and the fear of crime has become symptomatic of a continuing race-relations problem.

We could argue that there is no link between race and violence, that, in fact, the majority of all violent crimes are committed by whites against whites.

We could remind people that the goal of the whole civil rights movement was to win the right of each individual to be treated as an individual -- even though blacks joined together to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, those are all appeals to reason in what is essentially an emotional issue.

But the anger appears to be self-sustaining, feeding upon itself, feeding upon the headlines.

I don't know how to break this cycle. I only know that it must be broken.

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