Simms links black and white victims of racial unrest

January 16, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Rodney King and Yankel Rosenbaum were symbolic cousins, the Baltimore state's attorney said last night, recalling the racial tensions that victimized blacks and whites during the last two years and invoking the nonviolent solutions advocated by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Stuart O. Simms, the city prosecutor, spoke at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation's special Sabbath service commemorating the birthday of the assassinated civil rights leader. Mr. Simms' subject was "The Lessons of Los Angeles and Crown Heights."

His interfaith audience, including the pastor and members of Northwest Baltimore's Grace Presbyterian Church, prayed for racial peace in the Pikesville synagogue that has made a tradition of such commemorations.

Rodney King, the black motorist beaten March 3, 1991, by white Los Angeles police officers, and Yankel Rosenbaum, the white Hasidic scholar stabbed to death Aug. 19, 1991, by blacks in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., "were not born into the same family," Mr. Simms said. He noted the "different backgrounds, faiths and homes" of the black man and the white man he called cousins.

The attacks on them and the riots touched off by the acquittals of their alleged attackers "were separated by the width and breadth of this country," the speaker said. "But in the framework of Dr. King's prescription of nonviolence and mutual understanding, they were brought together in the caldron of violence and lack of dialogue in this country."

Mr. Rosenbaum was stabbed by an angry Crown Heights crowd after a car in the entourage of a rabbi went out of control and killed a 7-year-old black child. Last October, a jury acquitted a black teen-ager of the fatal stabbing and this set off Jewish rioting.

As in Baltimore, the number of murders in Los Angeles in 1992 broke a record. Fifty-three of those deaths were attributed to the riots in April that followed the acquittal of the officers in the beating of Rodney King.

This has all happened, the state's attorney related, in a time when the national mood has been influenced by both fear of crime and resentment over victimization of blacks by the criminal justice system. Reliance on more than the justice system is needed, he said.

Against such a history, he cited words of Martin Luther King Jr. as a corrective. Among them:

"A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about men's social conditions. . . .

"Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men, and each man with himself."

The cantor and the choir of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation set the tone of the service with a Hymn to Freedom:

"When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty, that's when we'll be free.

"When every hand joins every hand and together molds our destiny, that's when we'll be free.

"The time soon will come when all will live in dignity, that's when we'll be free.

"When everyone joins our song, and together singing harmony, we will be free."

Rabbis Murray Saltzman, Daniel Weiner and Andrew Bossov also participated.

"Martin Luther King's legacy is more than just a black concern," said Rabbi Bossov. Rabbi Saltzman prayed that "Dr. King's vision might be our vision."

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