Young defenders should save protests for the real victims

January 16, 1998|By R. B. Jones

AS the state Senate gathers to vote on the expulsion of the embattled Larry Young today, I'm gripped by how this unfortunate situation is made worse by the self-deception of some African-American community leaders who are attempting to attribute Mr. Young's troubles to a white conspiracy to destroy black leaders.

What makes Mr. Young a martyr in the eyes of his vociferous defenders, led by radio mogul Cathy Hughes and others who have been almost hysterical in his defense?

What great and noble cause?

A martyr is one who sacrifices his or her life in some great and noble cause. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr for nonviolent social change and freedom and justice. King, who was killed nearly 30 years ago by an assassin, gave the ultimate sacrifice without thought of personal gain.

When people try to lay the mantle of martyrdom on Mr. Young, they are either being ignorant of black people's arduous struggles or they are being deceitful.

Mr. Young has had a relatively easy rise through the ranks of the state Democratic Party. Any major difficulties he has encountered have been of his own making. For example, 10 years ago this week Mr. Young was stripped of his coveted chairmanship of the House Environmental Matters Committee for raising more than $100,000 for his campaign treasury, half of it from the health care industry, whose representatives regularly appeared before his committee.

At that time, Mr. Young blamed racism for his downfall. Sure, there were some people who said politics contributed to his undoing, but the bottom line is that his own greed was the key culprit.

When Mr. Young entered the state Senate in 1988, he once again rose to the ranks of leadership and eventually became a close ally of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Far from being a victim of white conspiracy, Mr. Young enjoyed close and successful relationships with the white power elite of the party. He was firmly entrenched, holding two committee chairmanships, including a key post overseeing health care legislation.

Of course, he's likely to be turned out of the Senate today as a result of the General Assembly's ethics committee recommendation this week that he be expelled from the body for betraying ''the public trust'' by using his office to benefit his private businesses.

Real targets of racism

Mr. Young's defense gives short shrift to the black men who truly are victims of conspiracies. Many of the thousands of black males who languish in the nation's jails and prisons are such victims. They live in cities with failed school systems, declining employment opportunities and a law enforcement strategy designed to arrest and incarcerate low-level employees of the illicit drug trade.

Such young men don't have opportunities to do what Mr. Young did: lounge on the governor's yacht, fly around the country to attend lavish political fund-raisers.

In all the denunciation of General Assembly leaders and others who did not blindly support Mr. Young, there has been no explanation of one issue in the ethics committee report that troubled me most: Mr. Young's consulting contract with Coppin State College.

If Mr. Young is this champion of the black community and a freedom fighter who has been targeted by the forces of white oppression, why was he charging a nearly 100-year-old black college for poor black folks $4,000 per month to do what he should have done for free?

Free ride

At the two recent rallies held for Mr. Young, at no time did I hear Mr. Young or his supporters offer any evidence that he did any work for the $34,000 he received from Coppin.

I kept waiting for his supporters to explain away what appears to be a betrayal of the community-service legacy of the college's namesake, Fannie Jackson Coppin, who fought to educate black people under adverse conditions.

Other issues in the ethics committee report look questionable, but Mr. Young's supporters are saying that they are merely technical violations that should be excused. They say Mr. Young should be allowed to retain his seat and correct these errors.

The silence on the Coppin issue convinces me that many of Mr. Young's defenders are insincere; they apparently are speaking out because they owe him for a political favor.

The African-American community needs to be honest with itself if it's ever going to prevail over the real conspiracies against black empowerment.

R. B. Jones is poet in residence at the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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