Colorblind decision? Heated rhetoric: Young's supporters ignore evidence, risk polarizing city and state.

January 14, 1998

WAS Larry Young's "crime" the color of his skin?

From the moment allegations of improper behavior by the West Baltimore state senator appeared in this newspaper, Mr. Young's supporters -- singing "We Shall Overcome" -- proclaimed him a victim of racism.

They are wrong.

The impartial verdict of the legislature's joint ethics committee was based on overwhelming evidence that Mr. Young has violated numerous provisions of the state ethics law and the code of legislative conduct. Race was not a factor. But the highly charged "them-against-us" rhetoric of his supporters threatens to polarize this city and this state.

Some who remember how it was during decades of official and unofficial segregation and discrimination can't help but view the Young episode with a jaundiced eye. They had made up their minds that an African-American would not receive fair treatment.

It didn't matter to them that the ethics panel included two black legislators. Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., who co-chaired the committee, has gained a reputation for fearless integrity. Sen. Decatur W. Trotter is one of Prince George's County's most prominent black lawmakers.

Both men voted against the expulsion recommendation. Nonetheless, in the wake of the committee's actions, they were called "Uncle Toms" by radio personalities trying to pump up their listening audiences.

The silence of other black politicians and community leaders (one brave exception was Rodney A. Orange Sr., president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) speaks volumes about their fear of being similarly labeled, even in the face of the overwhelming and persuasive evidence against Mr. Young.

Perhaps these elected officials and community leaders are reminded that even a politician caught smoking crack cocaine ++ while in an adulterous affair -- Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. -- can get re-elected if enough people believe his impropriety was a result of racism.

Why is it that, in 1998, the belief persists in some circles that a black person can be punished for actions a white gets away with? Serious discussions are in order.

We must start to address that question and remove the perception that actions against wayward public officials are motivated by skin color.

Right and wrong know no color.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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