Color of crime is green, not black or white

January 06, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Convicted murderer Dontay Carter apparently targeted middle class white men when he embarked on his violent crime spree in Baltimore two years ago. Carter was convicted last year of the kidnapping and murder of Vitalis V. Pilius and of the kidnapping, attempted murder and robbery of two other men. All were white.

Carter and his compatriots used their victims' credit cards and identification to treat themselves to jewelry and sports shoes and to rent rooms in fancy downtown hotels; yet at his sentencing hearing last summer Carter -- who is black -- described himself as a victim striking back against white oppression.

Similarly, a Jamaican-born black man, Colin Ferguson, allegedly

targeted whites when he opened fire last month on a crowded Long Island train, killing six passengers and wounding several others. Mr. Ferguson, who is awaiting trial in New York this month, allegedly told police that he hated all whites, Asians and conservative blacks.

Thus, I could have understood if the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson had described black-on-white crime as the No. 1 civil rights issue of our time. Although we do not talk about it much, bigotry against whites is a festering problem in the black community. And I suspect that at least a portion of the violent crime by young black men can be traced to their bitterness and rage and a misplaced desire to strike back against racial inequalities in our society.

But in an interview in The Sun yesterday, Mr. Jackson described black-on-black crime as the nation's "No. 1 civil rights issue." And in Washington today, he will convene a National Black Leadership Conference on Youth Violence and Black on Black Crime.

DTC Yet the notion of black-on-black crime as a civil rights issue is absurd. I cannot recall a single instance where a black man chose to victimize another black man because of his skin color. "Black-on-black crime" has as much relevance to violence in America as "white-on-white crime." In other words, it has no relevance at all.

LaMont Flanagan, commissioner of the Maryland Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, agrees. "The kids tell me the name of the game is money," he says. "Green, not black, is the only color that matters to them."

For almost two years now, Mr. Flanagan has held weekly meetings with juveniles, ages 13 to 17, awaiting trial as adults for violent crimes. Mr. Flanagan says he started the rap sessions in an attempt to understand what is happening in America's inner cities. One of the things he discovered is that appeals to racial solidarity fall on deaf ears.

"Blackness, from the perspective of brotherhood, means nothing them," says Mr. Flanagan. "All of the institutions and associations -- family, church, community -- have no credibility in their eyes. Most of them say they would prefer to lead a crime-free life. Most of them say they despise the violence in their neighborhoods. But the desire for money and the things money can bring conquers everything. And they see no other way to make money than crime. Crime is their vocation."

As Mr. Flanagan notes, most criminals violate relationships that are -- or ought to be -- closer and dearer to them than race. They victimize their relatives, their neighbors and their friends. They strike out at the people who are closest to them, for no better reason than proximity.

Race is neither the problem nor the solution.

"Leaders have got to climb down off of their pedestals and get their hands dirty, working with kids face to face and one on one," says John Harris, a former convict who works part-time at Project Transition, a counseling center at Dundalk Community College for former inmates.

"Kids don't see these leaders; they do not believe [leaders'] successes relate to their lives," says Mr. Harris. "I know that the single most important thing in my life was when I met successful black men and realized that they were regular people like me. It was only then that I began to feel that if they could do it, I could too."

But our leaders aren't going to get their hands dirty speechifying at a "national leadership conference" in Washington, D.C.

And they certainly are not going to find solutions by pursuing concepts, such as "black-on-black crime," that have little relationship to what is going on in our streets.

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