For prosecution, it's not the defeat, it's the stupidity

June 21, 2000|By Gregory Kane

SOME PEOPLE just can't let things go. In the matter of Ray Lewis, recently cleared of murder charges but guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, some folks just need to move on.

Letter writer Alan Paxton is a case in point. Obviously subscribing to the notion that if a crime involves a black guy with a knife, said black guy must be guilty. Paxton dashed off this fiery missive:

"Please, how the hell can you call the acquittals of Oakley and Sweeting proof that they acted in self-defense? ... Early on it was easy to predict that the various defenses could win, especially Lewis', because they were all high-powered attorneys, facing the way-overmatched district attorney's office, led by Paul Howard, obviously in office because of his color. He simply stinks as a trial attorney.

"This case was similar to O.J. Simpson, who got off scot-free because he had the far better attorneys than the prosecution had," Paxton says, adding his view that the four were guilty of the charges against them.

"But you choose to rally around Lewis because he's black, and fail to acknowledge that the poor victims were killed unnecessarily, and because now it's fashionable for you to imply that Ray Lewis and his co-defendants were unfairly charged because of their race. I challenge you to `answer' my assertion ... "

Well, Alan, always willing to oblige, dog, as Lewis might say. You need to slow your roll, son. You make far too many false assumptions and slips in logic. I never implied Lewis, Sweeting and Oakley "were unfairly charged because of their race." That's an inference of your own, no doubt inspired by racial hang-ups you really need to address.

If anything, I implied the trio was charged for the other reason you noted - the incompetence of the Fulton County district attorney's office. (But you do get some props, Alan, for your probably correct suspicion that Paul Howard, the Fulton County DA, is "in office because of his color." I don't know why he was elected, but competence sure couldn't have been a factor.)

Nor do I rally around Lewis "because he is black." I rally around him because he was the victim of a flagrant abuse of prosecutorial power. That's not a color issue. Prosecutors across the country, black and white, have been guilty of it.(One of the most publicized, and probably notorious, examples was that of the now-departed state's attorney for New Jersey's Essex County. Among the offenses Patricia Hurt was accused of was holding a murder suspect in jail over the objections of her assistants, who doubted his guilt and said they had little evidence.)

Such abuses should be exposed and nipped in the bud as soon they rear their heads, because, Alan, you might find yourself in Lewis' position one day.

You seem nervous, Alan, about the notion of black folks acting in self-defense. You're not alone. A lot of nonblacks are nervous about the idea. Heck, a lot of black folks are nervous about the idea.

Look at how the folks at Associated Black Charities recoiled in horror at a mural depicting Harriet Tubman holding a musket.

The mural would "send the wrong message," they whimpered, apparently forgetting that the woman led slaves to freedom, had a price on her head and did indeed carry a gun for - ugh, there's that awful term again - self-defense.

As for the "poor victims" - both had criminal records and both had been drinking. One even had several bags of marijuana on him, indicating he hadn't quite given up the criminal lifestyle. Oakley and Sweeting had criminal records.

What all four of these men had in common, aside from running afoul of the law, was a passion for resolving idiotic disputes by means of a street fight. That hardly qualifies Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar as victims.

I put them in the category of another "victim" I knew in my youth.

Sharp, we called him. (His real name was Bernard). He stalked West Baltimore's streets and conducted his own minireign of terror. I saw him viciously beat the captain of St. Pius V Catholic Youth Organization one Friday night. Another night, he punched a man walking down the street in the face.

While the man chased Sharp, one of his homeys smashed a bottle on the guy's shoulder, leaving him dripping blood in the street.

One night Sharp, who had a fondness for switchblades, let his hubris carry him too far.

He got into some flak with a guy named Butch who, knowing Sharp's rep, had armed himself with a handgun. Sharp slashed at Butch once with his switchblade. Butch blasted him into oblivion.

The state of Maryland sent Butch to prison for manslaughter in what was a clear case of self-defense. I'm sure prosecutors portrayed Sharp as a "poor victim."

The law never caught up with him.

Street justice did.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.