Separate probe of Aberdeen sought NAACP says blacks unfairly targeted by Army investigators

February 27, 1997|By Lisa Respers and Scott Wilson | Lisa Respers and Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Charging that the Army has unfairly targeted black soldiers, the NAACP yesterday called for an independent investigation of the sexual misconduct scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Officials from NAACP branches in Harford and Baltimore counties objected to the Army's initial response -- relieving of duty 20 male sergeants and instructors from the Ordnance Center and School soon after the scandal broke in November. The officials charged that only black males are being investigated and prosecuted, many of them on the basis of complaints by white female recruits.

"We feel that injustice is being done," Harford branch president Janice E. Grant said at a news conference at her home. "It's a reinforcement of the stereotype of black men as the dangerous aggressors and white women as helpless victims."

Army officials said yesterday that the seven men currently charged with sexual misconduct -- ranging from rape to consensual sex -- are black. Rachel McDonald, a spokeswoman at APG, said the accusers include black and white women.

"This is not a black and white issue, it's a green issue. It's what soldiers allegedly did to other soldiers. We're confident the investigations are proceeding without any regard to race," McDonald said.

The three soldiers originally referred for courts-martial -- Capt. Derrick Robertson, Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson and Staff Sgt. Nathanael C. Beach -- are black. The only accuser to go public, Jessica Bleckley, is white.

Officials announced last week that Beach will not face a court-martial and will instead have his case decided in a less serious disciplinary forum. Other soldiers have been charged, suspended or discharged in the months following the Army's announcement of its sexual misconduct probe.

Edward C. Starnes, spokesman for the Ordnance Center and School, said Army officials met with representatives from the NAACP in December to discuss a number of concerns at Aberdeen, including racial issues. Starnes denied that investigators have targeted black soldiers.

"Race is an issue, [at the proving ground] but it's not germane to this investigation," Starnes said. "The investigators will go wherever the case leads."

Grant said representatives from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches in Kent, Baltimore and Montgomery counties joined her at the December meeting where they were provided statistics that showed a large number of blacks being accused and investigated.

Bernetha George, a member of the Baltimore County branch, said yesterday that when NAACP officials asked why more whites had not been charged they were told "investigations are still being conducted."

"It was very disturbing to us," George said. "It brought back images of black men walking down the street and saying 'Hi' to a white woman and then being hung for it."

Grant pointed out that several of the alleged victims in the sex scandal have admitted to having consensual relationships with their superiors. Of the 56 current and former female recruits who say they were victims, 20 said they had consensual sex with sergeants or instructors; three other women said they were involved in social relationships with the men, according to Army statistics.

Grant said the NAACP has received calls from women who say they are being pressured to help prosecute the accused trainers and she questioned the Army's practice of charging the men and counseling the women.

"Why aren't these women being punished when there was an equal relationship between them and the men," Grant asked. "The Army is aware that some of these rape cases are consensual. I've gotten calls from women who say they are being threatened that if they don't testify against these men they will be prosecuted for lying."

Army officials have said that the trainers are being prosecuted because they hold the upper hand in relationships with recruits. Personal relationships between trainers and recruits are prohibited by the Army.

McDonald said the accusers have all signed sworn statements and the maximum penalty for false swearing is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and benefits, and five years confinement.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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