Kemba's Nightmare," they call it.
.....Kemba is Kemba Smith, winner of the Victim Sweepstakes for 1997. Emerge magazine did a feature story on Smith in May 1996, giving details of her sordid relationship with a crack cocaine dealer. The relationship ended with Smith doing a mandatory minimum of 24 years in federal prison for her involvement in the heel's drug ring.
Liberals, whiners and bleeding hearts went into collective apoplexy. Kemba's sentence, they screamed, was an injustice. Her involvement in the drug ring was minimal. Mandatory minimums had to go. Lost in the ranting was the fact that Smith could have plea-bargained for far less time by cooperating with federal prosecutors, which she chose not to do.
Emerge has rehashed the Smith case. "Kemba's Nightmare, Part II" reads the May 1998 cover. Smith is a nationwide cause celebre among members of the League of the Perpetually Sappy. She's received letters. Students at Colonel White High School for the Arts in Dayton, Ohio, descended on the nation's capital, toting signs protesting the injustice of mandatory minimums.
But let's talk about a real nightmare for a second. I'm inclined to call it "Tauris' Nightmare," for 10-year-old Tauris Johnson. But Tauris can't have nightmares anymore. He died from a bullet to the head in November 1993, caught in the cross fire between rival drug gangs on an East Baltimore street corner.
So Tauris' family must still have the nightmare. So far, no national black magazine - not Ebony, not Essence, not Emerge - has seen fit to write about it. It's as if black America can have sympathy for a Kemba Smith - who's doing a 24-year minimum because of her own bad choices - and none for young Tauris.
What, exactly, was Tauris' sin? He was playing football when the bullets started flying. He was doing what every 10-year-old American boy has a duty and right to do - play some touch football in his own neighborhood.
Neither Tauris nor his family made bad choices. They didn't ask the drug-dealing dirt-bags to come into their neighborhood and take over. Compare Tauris' case to that of how Kemba Smith used her choices.
She graduated from high school in 1989 and went to Hampton University. There, at the behest of some girlfriends, she dumped a boyfriend who showed academic promise but whose wardrobe wasn't quite stylish. She then hooked up with Mr. Drug Dealer, Peter Michael Hall. He beat her frequently and got her pregnant. When federal authorities closed in, they offered Smith a choice of either giving up Hall or taking the 24 years. Smith chose the latter. Stupid woman.
About five years after being given that choice, Kemba's still stupid.
"I've grown, accepted my responsibilities, accepted my choices," she said in the current Emerge. "Looking in hindsight, those were the best choices at the time."
So she'd do it again. She'd choose the miscreant boyfriend, take the beatings and opt for the 24 years to prove she could stand by her man. And what's the reaction of those members of the liberal wing of the national black body politic, which never saw a black criminal they couldn't sympathize with or a criminal sentence they thought was just?
"Kemba's a victim," they tell us. "Mandatory minimums are the problem."
Mandatory minimums aren't the problem. It's the people who make mandatory minimums mandatory who are the problem. That includes Kemba Smith, whose involvement in Hall's drug ring was supposedly "minor," according to her defenders.
But it's the major and minor players in drug rings who are responsible for the drug wars that claimed the life of young Tauris Johnson. Tauris was a victim of the crack cocaine war waged by rival drug gangs. Mandatory minimums were instituted because, across the country, too many Tauris Johnsons were getting caught in the cross fire of rival crack cocaine gangs. That fact seems lost on those railing against mandatory minimums or who claim there's racism in the disparity in sentencing for those possessing powder cocaine vs. those possessing crack cocaine.
The next time Kemba Smith's supporters descend on Washington to whine about mandatory minimums, they might want to stop in Baltimore and talk to Tauris Johnson's parents about the drug dealers who gave their son an unmandatory maximum death sentence.
Pub Date: 4/29/98