Cosbys received justice unknown to some families

July 11, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

Dear Camille Cosby:

Please come to Baltimore. You need, desperately, to talk to a man named Kenneth Lee.

According to the July 8 USA Today, you believe "America taught our son's killer to hate African-Americans." You then launched into a litany of America's "institutional" white racism sins: the images of holy people as white, the definition of black as evil, the inclusion of the movie "Birth of a Nation" in the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 American films.

In what must have been a real stretch, you even criticized U.S. currency as part of the problem.

"Interestingly, several slave-owners' images are on America's paper currencies: George Washington ($1), Thomas Jefferson ($2), Alexander Hamilton ($10), Andrew Jackson ($20), Ulysses Grant ($50) and Benjamin Franklin ($100). Grant was the last U.S. president to own slaves."

Just before the Civil War, Grant was a low-wage store clerk in Galena, Ill. (a free state), who could barely afford his next meal, much less slaves. If he owned slaves, it's the first many Americans have heard of it. If you have a source of Grant's slave ownership, you should have named it. Unless you have such a source, you have simply written a shameless canard to back up your thesis that blacks are relegated to permanent victimhood in America.

That's why you need to talk to Kenneth Lee, so the two of you can have a chat about racism, hatred and losing sons to racist violence.

Kenneth Lee is a Korean-American. His oldest son, Joel, was killed five years ago in Northeast Baltimore. A black man walked up to him and shot him in the head. Four witnesses testified they saw the shooting. Two more witnesses testified the suspect told them he did the killing. The suspect's uncle told U.S. attorneys his nephew bragged about the killing, crowed that he hated Koreans, and shot Joel Lee for no other reason.

"Don't take my word for it," the uncle pleaded in vain with U.S. attorneys. "Strap a wire to me and I'll get this on tape."

You see, Mrs. Cosby, there's one thing you got that Kenneth Lee didn't: justice. Your son's killer, Mikail Markhasev, was found guilty Tuesday and faces a life-without-parole sentence. The suspect in the Joel Lee case was acquitted by a jury with 11 black members who claimed that six prosecution witnesses lacked credibility. U.S. attorneys refused to prosecute the suspect, claiming they couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had violated the victim's civil rights. The uncle's offer to be wired so he could get a taped confession was dismissed out of hand.

You have the satisfaction of knowing your son's killer will be behind bars for the rest of his days. The American criminal justice system -- one of the several white racist institutions you criticized -- worked for you. The suspect in Joel Lee's death is in jail on an unrelated drug charge and will be walking the streets soon. The American criminal justice system refused to convict the black suspect accused of killing Lee. Kenneth Lee believes it's because Asian-Americans are small in number and lack political clout. His theory about why justice didn't prevail in his son's case is just as valid as yours about America teaching Markhasev to hate black Americans.

In fact, your "hate teaching" theory is as much on shaky ground as your allegation that Grant was a slaveholder. It's just possible that Markhasev learned his hatred in mother Russia -- where there is little U.S. currency, where "The Birth of a Nation" is not on the top 100 films list, where in some places, the Black Madonna and her black Christ-child are still revered. I'm sure you read how in May a group of Russian skinheads brutally attacked an African-American Marine in Moscow. Racist violence against blacks and Asians has been on the rise in Russia and other European countries for years. Race hatred is not a phenomenon unique to America or the exclusive prerogative of whites.

Kenneth Lee knows this all too well. He could have read with some bewilderment your claim that "All African-Americans, regardless of their educational and economic accomplishments, have been and are at risk in America simply because of their skin colors. Sadly, my family and I experienced that to be one of America's saddest truths."

The sad truth about America is that Asians have been attacked for being Asian, whites for being white, Hispanics for being Hispanic, gays for being gay and Native Americans for being Native American. Contrary to what your article implies, the attackers can be and sometimes are black.

Hating each other is what Americans do. The sad truth is that we seem to be quite good at it.

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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