Amid mystery of racist letter, be sure of one thing: Napata's not the culprit

September 12, 1999|By Gregory Kane

AT LAST, a suspect has been identified in the notorious "Aryan Blood Brotherhood" letter that has been circulating throughout Baltimore the past two weeks. Folks have fingered one Rev. Daki Napata as the culprit. It's quite the pity they've got the wrong guy.

Napata demonstrated in front of The Sun building last week, protesting the depiction of him as a man of no morals and low character. His Wednesday harangue ended shortly after noon. He trudged slowly up Calvert Street, his bullhorn slung over his shoulder as he turned left on Centre Street.

I followed him, eager to get his side of the story on why he had Lawrence Bell campaign supporter Robert Clay order 3,000 copies of the "Aryan Blood Brotherhood" letter to be made at an Office Depot store on U.S. 40. I had nearly overtaken him when a perfectly able-bodied black man walked by Napata and -- proclaiming fraternal kinship -- asked me for spare change.

"Why didn't you ask him?" I protested, pointing to Napata. "You walk right by him and ask me for change?"

Napata, overhearing the exchange, turned and flashed a grin. It may have been the first time he smiled in days.

But it wasn't the first time we talked. Napata and I go back a ways. My first -- and most vivid -- memory of Napata is when we were the only two blacks to attend a memorial service for John Lennon in Hopkins Plaza in December 1980, just days after the famous ex-Beatle had been shot to death in New York.

As speaker after speaker railed against handgun violence and a pall settled over the crowd, the popping sound of a pair of hands clapping soon filled the air. Then a lone voice sang out the memorable Lennon song refrain, "All we are saying, is give peace a chance."

The crowd soon picked up the lyrics, and Lennon's song filled Hopkins Plaza. The man who had started the chant was Daki Napata. He recalled the incident as we chatted in the middle of what had mercifully become a panhandler-free Centre Street.

"I was in the peace-and-justice movement, too," Napata recalled of the day he started the peace song in Hopkins Plaza. He had refused to carry a gun when he served as an enlisted man in Vietnam. That was before he became Daki Napata. He was Tyrone Speights then, out of Baltimore's Cherry Hill. The man accused of being the skulking racist who all but originated the "Aryan Blood Brotherhood" letter was an Air Force race relations specialist, trained in the States to return to Vietnam and teach black and white servicemen the finer points of civility.

He worked eight years for the American Friends Service Committee as the director of its South Africa project in the 1980s. The Archdiocese of Baltimore gave him its Peace and Justice Award in his last year of working for AFSC.

He's gone from being a conciliator between the races to one accused of dividing them. Napata said the label doesn't fit. If he's so against a white being elected to citywide office, why did he support Mary Pat Clarke's run for City Council president in 1991 against, among other opponents, former state Sen. Larry Young?

"You want to know how I got that letter?" Napata said of the "Aryan Blood Brotherhood" missive. "I was in City Hall. I asked Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke if he had a copy. He told me to get one from the press secretary." Napata said he copied the letter to distribute to as many people as possible. He was outraged not only by its contents but by the insistence of some that it couldn't possibly have been sent by whites.

Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Schmoke, confirmed Napata's story.

"He got the letter from us," Coleman said. "We cut off the top so the sender and receiver couldn't be identified. We got it from a news organization." Coleman added that "no way do I believe Daki originated the letter." Coleman, like Napata, believes it's just possible that the Aryan Blood Brotherhood exists and the organization did send the letter.

"One year ago the people in Littleton, Colo., wouldn't have believed the Trenchcoat Mafia existed," Coleman said. "I've worked here 12 years. I used to park on the same lot the police used. I'd leave work and find KKK literature on my car."

That is precisely Napata's point. In a city with a history of virulent white racism that could easily rival bigotry in Birmingham, Ala. (the police dogs Bull Connor unleashed on black demonstrators in 1963 came from our police department), why couldn't a racist group that sends out racist communiques exist? Do white Americans need, indeed harp on, black racism because it makes them forget their own?

The language of the "Aryan Blood Brotherhood" letter -- capitalizing the "b" in black and its Jew-baiting tone -- still indicates the culprits are most likely black. But the culprit is not Napata. Jew-baiting in public or private discourse is not his style. But that will probably matter little to those who've pronounced him guilty on the flimsiest of evidence.

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