Victimology at work in Smothers case

September 13, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The controversy that continues to swirl around Officer Charles Smothers' fatal shooting of James Quarles last month has, as such things inevitably must, brought forth some other issues. Let's look at some of the more interesting ones.

Charles Smothers vs. O. J. Simpson: We've heard much talk over the past month about how Smothers' being charged with assault for shooting at his girlfriend's car during a domestic dispute two years ago indicated he was a loose cannon who should not have been out on the street. This one incident, critics of the shooting assured us, showed Smothers as a man with a proclivity for violence.

What a difference three years makes. Before, during and after O. J. Simpson's trial, there were people who said that the 911 call Nicole Brown Simpson made when she shouted to police that Simpson was beating the living daylights out of her showed that O. J. was a loose cannon who was so prone to violence that he could have, indeed, murdered Nicole and Ron Goldman.

Simpson's defenders had a fit. The two incidents -- the beating and the murder -- weren't connected, they claimed. Because O. J. beat Nicole didn't mean he'd murdered her.

Don Crutchfield, a private investigator and author who says he knows O. J., described in his book "Confession of a Hollywood P.I." how Simpson roughed up a parking lot attendant for not handling the Juice's car properly. In a more revealing anecdote, Crutchfield told of how Simpson's son Jason deliberately

damaged one of his dad's favorite statues, repeatedly striking it with a baseball bat and chanting "I hate my father." A family friend talked to Jason about his feelings for his father. He promised Jason he'd talk to Simpson.

During the conversation with Simpson, the family friend said, he would tell O. J. everything that Jason had said on the condition that Simpson would not retaliate. The friend told all. The result, Crutchfield wrote, was that O. J. "kicked the living s - - - out of Jason." Funny, isn't it, how one incident of domestic violence makes one guy a hero and another guy a villain?

You can bet your bottom dollar that most of those who want Officer Charles Smothers' head on a platter also believe O. J. is innocent. In fact, you could probably bet a year's salary on it and retire early. But the most disturbing question is why a heel like O. J. ends up being a hero to some folks.

A white woman who called a local radio talk show this week shared her belief that had Charles Smothers been white, Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy would have prosecuted him.

My stars! Is there a white chapter of the League of the Perpetually Oppressed? Apparently so. It occurs to me that when two white officers shot Sean Freeland to death in March, Jessamy didn't prosecute them. But in an America where everybody is trying to qualify for victim status, I guess it's inevitable some would think that white officers being charged with unjustified use of deadly force is routine. The fact is, it happens rarely, whether the officer is black or white.

But I won't cite annoying facts again. I'll merely suggest that Americans should consider getting a new national anthem. We can call it "Color Me Victim." Al Sharpton can write the lyrics. New York radio talk show host Bob Grant -- who suggested that the death of Department of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown may have been a good thing -- can write the words.

While on the subject of talk radio, I might as well add that a true cross-racial dialogue could get started if we talked to each other in addition to talking to radio show hosts. Granted, talk radio show hosts give you more useful information in 15 minutes than every television talk show combined can give you in two weeks, but true racial reconciliation can't be achieved until we talk to each other. But who am I to suggest something that might bring about racial harmony?

The fact is Americans will do what we always do: wait until some racial conflagration has taken scores, perhaps hundreds of lives. Then we'll moan and wail and wring our hands and talk about what a shame it is. Then we'll inch our way toward racial dialogue only to drop it when we lose interest.

Not all those who demonstrated against Jessamy's decision not to charge Smothers belong to the League of the Perpetually Oppressed. Some are quite sincere, dedicated folks who believe in police accountability. Among them is Del. Clarence Mitchell IV of Baltimore, whose grandmother helped get me out of jail once for, ironically, protesting police brutality.

Another is the perspicacious Eric Easton of Unity for Action, a group that only weeks ago staged a fund-raiser to collect money for school supplies for needy students. Both Mitchell and Easton -- and many of the other protesters -- have criticized police and Jessamy's decision without resorting to the invective of calling folks who don't agree with their views "Uncle Toms" or "Aunt Jemimas." They have exercised their constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances and should be commended for it.

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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