Jackson targets issues, but focus is on cameras

June 02, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

When the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson emerged from his 30 minutes of jail-house prayer and reflection with the convicted police killer Flint Gregory Hunt on Thursday, a man quietly asked him, "What did Hunt talk about?"

"Let's go over here," Jackson said, peering beyond his little circle of supporters to a spot about 20 yards north, where television cameras and microphones were waiting in the twinkly sunlight.

Jackson's media people had set a press conference for 11 o'clock. Since Jackson had airplaned in for his meeting with Hunt, and since he'd arrived a little late, it was remarkable how he was now emerging right on time for all the gathered news media. Had he cut short his meeting with the condemned man? Had he said, "Flint, Flint, love to talk more, man, but I've got a gig outside."

Maybe not. After all, here was Jackson speaking into a bank of microphones now, his voice rising over a siren that was bouncing off vacant buildings a few blocks away, and he was talking not merely of the condemned Hunt, but also of the condemned Jesus on the cross, and of those who "couldn't make a distinction between a thief and a robber and Jesus."

Question: Was Jackson comparing the case of Flint Gregory Hunt -- who'd stood over a 25-year-old uniformed policeman named Vincent Adolfo and shot him to death -- to Jesus and the crucifixion? Jackson didn't specifically say, but his analogy was a little disturbing, and he came back to it a couple of times.

Hunt, in fact, was nobody's savior, and it's a little tough to figure how he's suddenly become the poster child not simply for those revolted by capital punishment, but also those who find various racial conspiracies behind prison sentences.

"The state of Maryland," Jesse Jackson declared, "has a 25 percent African-American population. But 80 percent of those in its prisons are African-American."

Question: Did Jackson know what percentage of those victimized by various street criminals happen to be black? He did not, though he admitted it was "overwhelming." Did he think those black victims might, in fact, favor strict penalties, that they might think it trivialized their own lives when criminals got a break? Jackson didn't say.

Question: Did Jackson know the racial breakdown on homicides in Baltimore? He did not. So, to set the record straight, here are the most recent racial breakdowns, from the first nine months of 1994: Of 224 homicides, 201 victims were black. That's 89.7 percent.

"Those figures have pretty much held up since then," city police spokesman Sam Ringgold said last week. "It's black-on-black crime. Of the 194 homicide suspects described by race [in those first nine months of 1994], 182 were black."

Question: Did Jackson know about Flint Gregory Hunt's previous criminal record? "We didn't talk about that," Jackson said.

Jackson did know that Hunt had a problem with narcotics, which may have led him to the night of Nov. 18, 1985, when Hunt ran from a stolen Cadillac, and he and Vince Adolfo struggled in East Baltimore's Iron Alley, and Hunt stood over Adolfo and shot him twice.

"We're not looking at this as a racial incident," Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said last week. "We're looking at this as a coward who shot a policeman in the back, and then stood over him and shot him in the chest."

McLhinney met briefly with Jackson. He said he told him, "At the end of a bullet, it doesn't say black or white. If Vince Adolfo were black, we'd still want the death penalty."

What McLhinney is implying is color-blindness, which Jackson declares a lie. He said blacks get tougher sentences for crimes against whites than for crimes against blacks. It had echoes of Jackson's speech at Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, when Jackson decried the disparities in sentencing on drugs: heavy for crack cocaine (favored by blacks, according to Jackson), not so heavy for powdered cocaine (favored by whites, according to Jackson).

It raised the question then, and re-raised it last week: Instead of debating comparative sentencing on the various drug cases, shouldn't Jackson's message be to avoid narcotics altogether?

Which leads to another question: How does Jesse Jackson, the one-time heir apparent to Dr. Martin Luther King as the country's conscience on race, select which issues to address and which ones to ignore?

Flint Gregory Hunt is nobody's angel. Is there a racial disparity in sentencing? Maybe. But why make Hunt, a cold-blooded cop killer, the focus? Are more blacks than whites sentenced to death? Percentage-wise, yes, though in raw numbers, no. But, what about the vast preponderance of black victims? Do their lives count for nothing?

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