Dontay Carter knows he's a hero to nobody now

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 10, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The eminent philosopher and jailbird Dontay Carter now find himself in an awkward position. He's had his 15 minutes of infamy and now must spend the remainder of his life wondering where everything went wrong.

In Baltimore Circuit Court Tuesday, the 20-year-old convicted murderer, kidnapper, escapee and deep thinker on race relations did the one thing attorneys always caution their clients against: Too much talking.

In a bitter, rambling, combative discourse on his life and philosophy, Carter inadvertently showed everyone his own pain, which he will carry for the rest of his years. It turns out, he is no one's hero. And, it turns out, he knows it.

Go back to last Jan. 18, after Carter jumped out of a second-floor bathroom window at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. Caught by police a day later, he emerged from his hiding place to find people cheering his captors.

"I'd have rather died than be pulled out of that apartment and see black people clapping like the police did something good when I've never hurt a black man," he said Tuesday.

The words send a chill through all who have longed for a colorblind America. Carter spoke them minutes before Judge John Prevas sentenced him to life in prison with no chance for parole, plus another life term, plus another 190 years behind bars, all related to Carter's murder of Vitalis V. Pilius, his kidnapping and choking of Dr. Daniel E. Ford, and his kidnapping of Douglas R. Legenhausen.

All were middle-class white men. Carter, born in 1973, blamed his actions on 400 years of slavery. He was shocked to find that those applauding his capture blamed Carter's actions on him.

Do I minimize the plight of black people in America? Not for a moment. The racial disparity of income levels, of job opportunities, the insidious deals cooked in banks and real estate offices, all tell of lingering discrimination in this country.

But Dontay Carter has missed a few things in his brief life, or has chosen to ignore them. For openers, he seems to have overlooked an absolute miracle: the transformation of tens of millions of black people, once so oppressed by overtly racist laws that they never had a chance, who are now leading middle-class lives in spite of American history.

Have millions been left behind? Absolutely. There is a vast black underclass that has turned self-destructive on a sad and terrifying scale: committing homicides, trafficking in narcotics. . . .

The list is too familiar to need repetition here. But a week ago, at the funeral of a city cop named Herman Jones, you could see some of the human fallout. Jones was wearing his police uniform when he was shot to death. Three teen-agers have been charged with his murder.

On North Avenue last week, there was thinly veiled rage among those who filled the long street outside the memorial service. Many talked of bringing back the death penalty, of wanting an eye for an eye. Those talking were black.

They do not live with the illusions of many white Americans, who gaze in from suburbia and somehow think blacks tolerate violence in their neighborhoods. The truth is otherwise: There is terror there, and the ones like Dontay Carter are not considered heroic rebels. They are found contemptible and terrifying.

Race has nothing to do with it. Dontay Carter likes to boast that he's read about Malcolm X. Judge Prevas has apprised him of the limitations of his reading, and how Malcolm learned to judge people on their character instead of merely their skin color.

"Carter is a guy," Prevas said yesterday, "with a deep, aching hole in his heart. A lot of it has to do with his mother. Through this long ordeal, she came to court one time, went to the wrong courthouse door, and turned around and went home. Another time, she watched for a few minutes and then left. And that's all."

On Tuesday, Carter talked about watching his mother's miserable inner-city life. He decried the city's "cowardly black leaders." He complained about a system which enslaves black men.

He made a few points. His mistake is relating them to his crime spree: Dontay Carter's victims did nothing to him. Black leaders didn't encourage him to kill. And the reason people cheered when Carter was captured is simple: Everyone is revolted by his actions, no matter what color their skin is.

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