Giving unhappy readers their say in print again

July 13, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

This is part two of "The Readers Strike Back," which can also be subtitled: Letters to that notorious Uncle Tom and black racist Gregory Kane. Well, you can't please everybody. I certainly didn't please these folks.

John Miara, Pasadena, on my column about the Maryland State Police Special Traffic Interdiction Force (STIF) disproportionately stopping blacks for drug searches: "I do not know and you do not know if an equal number of blacks and whites are transporting drugs. But I do know that by printing stories like this you are not helping to improve race relations."

Bob Hatfield, Brooklyn Park, same subject: " ... the troopers know there are blacks driving stolen Buick Park Avenues with no licenses and no insurance hauling drugs back and forth."

Someone identified only as "a regular reader," same subject: "While tailgating, speeding and changing lanes without signaling may not be a 'black thing you wouldn't understand,' drug dealing and illegal weapon possession are disproportionately 'black things' we do understand."

Oh? Such comments usually inspire me to check statistics. I pulled together four FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993. The racial breakdowns for those four years showed whites averaged 59 percent of the drug arrests and 57 percent of the illegal weapons arrests. The figures for blacks were 40 percent of the drug arrests and 42 percent of the illegal weapons arrests.

Last year, in September and again in November, Baltimore police from the Eastern District conducted a sting operation to arrest drug users. All but a few of the 39 people arrested were white and from the suburbs. In December of last year, Baltimore County police conducted a similar sting in Essex, with similar results.

We might ask what those arrest percentages for drugs would look like if stings like the ones in the city's Eastern District and Baltimore County were the rule, not the exception. We might ask if those arrest figures for blacks represent a disproportionate number of black men engaged in criminal activity or a law enforcement policy that disproportionately affects them.

The questions certainly make Regular Reader's claim that drug dealing and weapons violations are black things seem not only misleading but hilariously delusional, though I suspect not too many black folks are laughing. And for those inclined to split hairs, I'll suggest that drug users are every bit a part of the drug trade dealers are. In fact, drug users are the backbone of the drug trade. Without them, those black street-level drug dealers law enforcement officials are so fond of arresting would have to ++ find another line of work.

So let me reiterate: The Maryland State Police STIF unit stopping black drivers at a 75 percent rate is way out of proportion to African-Americans' involvement in drugs and an outrage. Since everybody's involved in drugs, let's try to make such stops fairer, shall we?

Mbare Ngom wrote the following about one of my columns in the Sudan series:

"What struck me most ... is Mr. Kane's ignorance of the History of Africa. I was shocked by his comments about Elhadj Umar that he describes as [a] 'Tucolor whose armies terrorized West Africa in the early 1860s massacring Muslims and non-Muslims alike'; he concludes by saying 'I suspect he would have found a kindred spirit in Gen. Umar Hassan Ahmad el Bashir [head of the Sudanese regime].' Mr. Kane's knowledge of African history is BTC just amazingly poor. I am curious to know where he got that information from and what books he read. Comparing Elhadj Umar to General Ahmad el Bashir is not only an expression of Mr. Kane's ignorance and arrogance, but also an insult to Africa. ... Elhadj Umar was neither a bandit nor a criminal as [Kane] portrays him. Elhadj Umar was a noble man [and] a fine scholar. ... "

Oh, so Mbare Ngom just thinks I'm making this stuff up as I go along, eh? He challenges me to cite sources, does he? I'll start with Thomas Pakenham's "The Scramble For Africa":

"It was Umar who led his people ... [to] wage a 10-year jihad against the pagans of the east. ... Soon the conquered land was being parcelled out among his disciples. ... Mosques were built, Koranic law strictly enforced, the people of Kaarta forcibly converted, enslaved or killed."

An even more grisly picture of Umar is painted in Claude Meillassoux's "The Anthropology of Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold" and Maryse Conde's historical novels "Segu" and "Children of Segu." Conde -- who spent some time studying in West Africa, the scene of Umar's crimes -- gives a graphic account of how the Tucolor's troops massacred her Bambara ancestors.

So my knowledge of African history comes from reading the history, not that watered-down, happy-happy, joy-joy feel good pap that so often passes for African history. The three books mentioned above await your perusal, Mbare Ngom. Read 'em and weep.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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