It's time for black leaders to denounce criminals, too

February 27, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

I'M LYING comfortably in the reclining chair at my dentist's office while the hygienist gently scrapes tartar from my teeth. She uses the opportunity to make an observation.

"I was so sorry to find out the carjacker that dragged that 6-year-old boy to death was black," she said, her voice filled with combinations of frustration and sadness.

She was referring to Wednesday's tragedy in Independence, Mo. Christy Robel had left her son Jake in the back seat of her car while she ran into a sandwich shop. The key to her Chevrolet Blazer was in the ignition. A thug hopped into her car and took off, but not before a horrified Robel and an onlooker tried to grab the boy from the back seat.

Jake got entangled in the seat belt, and the thief dragged him five miles to his death. Some motorists who witnessed this act of terror managed to force the thief to stop and held him for police. A 34-year-old black man is being held as a suspect.

The hygienist continued to scrape while I pondered what she said. I started con- sidering my reaction when I first saw the suspect was black.

If Missouri has a death penalty, this is one case in which it would be put to good use.

My mind flashed back to a story in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger the previous weekend. In Hackensack, another carjacker forced a woman into the trunk of her car. He drove around while he talked on her cell phone, apparently too daft to realize the calls could be traced and possibly lead to his arrest. That's exactly what happened. He ditched the car, the woman escaped through a compartment joining the back seat to the trunk, and cops nabbed the idiot when people he called led the law right to him. The suspect is 19 years old and black.

My thoughts shifted from the two suspects to the dental office, a black-owned operation that is the model of excellence and efficiency. I was attracted to the office and its superb staff not because they're black, but because of their commitment to patient comfort and quality care. "We cater to cowards" is one of their mottoes, an adequate explanation of their desire to reduce patient pain and angst. They are perfect role models for what every African-American should aspire to be.

Then there are those two knuckleheads -- and the rest of Afro-America's criminal element -- who can't seem to get with the program. How should black America react to them? How about the same way most of us have reacted to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- drum them out of the race.

Thomas' "blackness" -- whatever that means -- has been questioned since he was appointed. He's been depicted on the front of Emerge magazine as a handkerchief-head and lawn jockey. Liberal black leaders have claimed his anti-affirmative action position has set black America back years.

Really now, what's going to make a white employer less inclined to hire blacks: Thomas' stand on affirmative action, or a steady parade of blacks committing egregious or heinous crimes? Who does more damage to the race's "image": Thomas, a competent jurist, or a black man charged with dragging a 6-year-old boy to his death? Thomas, or four black men charged with robbing a jewelry store and shooting to death a police officer and father of five? Thomas, or four black men charged with executing five women in an East Baltimore home?

It's not that black liberal leaders don't condemn criminality. They do. But they have not, as yet, condemned black criminals with the same vehemence with which they've condemned Thomas. They refuse to question the "blackness" of Afro-America's criminal element. They refuse to drum them out of the race. A black murderer can still be black, but not Thomas. A black rapist can still be loyal to the race, but Thomas is a traitor. As of the day this column was written, not one liberal black leader of national prominence has condemned the man who dragged Jake Robel to death. But before too long, some of those same leaders will claim the lout is a victim of white racist oppression and poverty.

Black America still has not come to grips with the disproportionate crime committed by our young men. It's all the media's fault, we whine, despite robbery and homicide statistics staring us in the face that say otherwise. Crime among blacks is the result of poverty and racism, we lie to ourselves, refusing to admit the real truth.

The real truth is this: Among black Americans today, there exists a class of men who regard crime as a cultural imperative.

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