Young's cry of racism doesn't stand up

December 07, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The saddest moment of Larry Young's news conference last week arrived when the beleaguered state senator, accused by this newspaper of various conflicts of interest, and taking money with both hands, and mixing public service with private grabbing, chose to call himself a victim of Baltimore Sun racism.

This will arrive as remarkable news to those politicians with names such as Agnew and Mandel and Anderson and Alton and Orlinsky, and the various Maryland savings-and-loan pillagers, and frequently criticized governors such as Glendening and Schaefer, and judges named Bollinger and Dudley, and big shots named Angelos and Paterakis, all of whom have been slammed by this newspaper despite the color of their skin.

"What are you trying to say?" I asked Young when the news conference ended. "That the Baltimore Sun doesn't go after whites?"

The senator slumped visibly.

"I didn't want to go there," he said softly.

"Then why did you?"

He glanced to his left, where the former state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III had just given considerable voice to his own theories of racial conspiracies in the midst of Young's news conference, when reporters were attempting to ask Young about his simultaneous connections with Maryland politics and various private companies wishing to do business with the state.

"This is part of a nationwide pattern," Mitchell declared, voice thundering through the small, packed conference room. He meant persecution of black elected officials. Young closed his eyes for a moment. It was tough to tell if he welcomed the respite from uncomfortable questioning, or feared he was losing control of his own news conference.

"I stood tall," Mitchell declared now. "I moved on. I was convicted for what the prosecutors thought I might do in the future. I was a rTC national leader who was convicted for standing in the way of Reagan-appointed judges."

Mitchell was, in fact, convicted of trying to impede a congressional investigation of Wedtech Corp., a defense contractor, and of attempting to obstruct a federal investigation of the drug dealer Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams.

"This newspaper has consistently gone after African-Americans," Mitchell declared now. "The walls of communism fell, and" - and then, finding himself straying somewhat afield, his voice tailed // off.

"That's why," Larry Young was saying a half-hour later, as his news conference room emptied. That's why he'd injected this newspaper and racism into his conflict-of-interest defense.

"But you know it's not true," I said.

"I didn't want to go there," Young said again.

But he did, and it's a little disingenuous for him to say that he didn't want to. When Clarence Mitchell finished his remarks, Young was immediately asked if he concurred. Yes, he said, he (( did. Then, the next day, he appeared on Allan Prell's WBAL radio program.

"Now let me also say this," Young said over the radio. "I do feel that the Sunpapers is a racist paper."

Asked if he thought the newspaper's charges were racially motivated, Young replied, "I believe it is part of the equation. ...I will not say all of this is about racism or the racist paper that I know the Sunpaper to be."

In fact, none of this is about race. Over the past several decades, this newspaper has been a solid and consistent voice of racial liberalism - even when such a voice alienated some white readers. Young should know this.

But, on a few counts, he wants to have it both ways. At his news conference, he said he hadn't read The Sun for the past 3 years. If he hadn't, where's his basis for criticism? If he had, he would know that charges of racism are not only painful to hear, but badly misguided as well.

Has this newspaper criticized blacks? Of course we have, just as we criticize whites who are involved in the daily life of this community. It's a newspaper's job to keep a critical eye on those who make public policy, who run our institutions, who enforce our laws and teach our children and run our courts.

Some of these people in public life, thank God (and thank the belated changes in the American conscience), are black people. The vast majority of them cover themselves with honor. But some don't - just as some white people don't. And, just as we try to report white people's mistakes, we write about black people's, too, and we try very hard to do it without regard to skin color.

Larry Young knows this, or he should. He should also know that people who read this newspaper, or get their news elsewhere, are smart enough to see a case involving big money and conflict of interest, and know that using racism as a defense merely cheapens the word.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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