A victim of betrayal in her own community


December 15, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

Less than an hour after Lisa left home for work, police believe, a gang of thieves took a brick and smashed a side window to her northwest Baltimore home.

The smallest of the thieves then squeezed through the tiny window and opened the front door for the others. A neighbor called police. But before police could arrive, the gang had trashed Lisa's home -- dumping drawers, overturning trash cans and rifling closets. They made off with a VCR, a television, and several pieces of jewelry.

For Lisa, this was the last straw.

"Let me tell you something," she begins and then stops to compose herself. She bites her lip. She clenches her fists. Her eyes redden. She fights back tears.

"Take your time," I say.

"Let me tell you something," she starts again, "I am really sick and tired of this. I mean really, really sick and really, really tired of this."

Her voice quavers.

"This is, like, the third time I've been robbed," Lisa continues. "I am angry. I am hurt. I am frightened, and you know what? I feel betrayed."

"Betrayed?" I ask.

"Yes, betrayed," says Lisa angrily, defiantly. "I feel betrayed by my people, by the community. I made a commitment to stay in the city when a lot of people my age fled. I made that commitment because I thought it was important, because I cared about the city and about the black community. But I will tell you now that I am fed up, tired. I am tired of being afraid, of being a prisoner in my own home. I am tired of feeling terrorized by my own people."

Lisa begins to bang her thighs with her fists. "What is wrong with us?" she demands. "What is wrong with us? Why are we doing this to ourselves? What is wrong with us? What is wrong with us? What is wrong with us?"

"I don't know," I answer.

I never liked the term "black on black crime" on the grounds that the phrase is as meaningless as the phrase "white on white crime". Most crimes are crimes of proximity and opportunity. Criminals prey upon their neighbors, family and friends. Thus, blacks victimize blacks and whites victimize whites.

We began speaking of black on black crime in the hopes of tapping the spirit of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the liberation struggle of the 1970s. We hoped that if criminals understood that they were hurting their "brothers," they would cease and desist. But the strategy obviously hasn't worked.

The criminals apparently do not care. And the phrase has taken on a life of its own, particularly among conservatives who are eager to seize upon anything that confirms their prejudiced image of blacks as violent animals.

But the reactions of people such as Lisa suggest that "black on black crime" is real. Black victims feel special outrage, violation and betrayal because they feel they have been victimized by their brothers even if the criminals do not. Blacks are 70 percent more likely to be victims of crime than their white counterparts, according to national studies. In the overwhelming majority of those cases, the victimizer is likely to be black. For instance, 95 percent of black homicide victims are killed by blacks.

"Who am I afraid of?" demands Lisa. "I am afraid of the same people I went to school with, went to church with. The people I see around me everyday. That's what hurts. I feel that they, of all people, ought to realize that we are all in the same boat, that I don't have much and what little I do have comes too hard and after too much sacrifice. But we're just like crabs in a pot -- climbing over each other, attacking each other when we're all in the same predicament."

"So, what's the solution?" I ask.

"I just don't know anymore," answers Lisa, who contacted a real estate agent and put her house on the market yesterday. "Sometimes I wonder if we really are a bunch of animals. Sometimes I just want to throw up my hands and say to my people: 'OK, if you want to destroy yourselves with drugs and alcohol, go ahead. If you want to get pregnant when you're a teen-ager or whatever, just go ahead. Just leave me the hell alone.'

"But then," she says, "I realize there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. So I just don't know."

To be continued Thursday.

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