Pepperoni and prejudice Delivery fears: If public housing was safe, pizza deliverers' argument would vanish.

March 20, 1996

IF YOU ARE white living among white neighbors and a pizza delivery man says he won't deliver to your street because he feels it's unsafe, you have to figure he really feels that way. The thought that he doesn't want to bring you a pizza because you're white never enters your head. But if you're black, you're never quite sure. So it's not surprising that in Annapolis, where most pizza delivery services say certain predominantly black neighborhoods are too dangerous to send employees, some African-Americans can't help wonder if more sinister forces are at work.

The city's Human Relations Commission has recognized that refusal to deliver isn't always, or even usually, a function of malicious racism. Deliverers genuinely feel afraid. In some cases, the fears are not justified; police statistics show as many attacks on deliverers have occurred in white areas as in the mostly black public housing complexes that are at the crux of this dispute. Some neighborhoods are perceived as dangerous just because they're black and poor, which, of course, is racism. Still, a person who won't deliver because he feels afraid can't be treated the same as one who won't deliver because he doesn't like blacks. And while Annapolis is no metropolis, some neighborhoods in the state capital really aren't safe.

The commission refused to treat a refusal to deliver to minority communities as racist in itself but told those who feel they have been treated unfairly to file a complaint, which would be investigated. Now, elected leaders need to decide on punishments, allowing for differences in motive and degree. And they need to put to rest a proposal to deny permits and zoning unless businesses deliver to their entire area. The conflict isn't unique to Annapolis or Maryland. Pizza deliverers have also refused to serve crime-ridden housing projects in Detroit and Philadelphia. The city of Annapolis should continue to publicize information, like those police stats, that should make businesses comfortable about going into some of these areas. But it is not reasonable to force deliverers to go into unsafe areas or prohibit them from using their own judgment if they feel a threat. The city needs to correct the conditions that make neighborhoods unsafe or make them appear so. Then, if a black citizen couldn't get a pizza delivered, there would be no wondering why.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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