Lynch mob's logic should not shape city policing

July 08, 2000|By Gregory Kane

Last Saturday, you read in this space about lynch mobs. Today, let's look at lynch mob logic. It prevails, doesn't it? Even a tiny bit? A smidgen of its vestiges probably lingers. Some reactions to the death of Christian Ludwig are an example.

Ludwig was stabbed to death some weeks ago as he tried to stop a man who had snatched a friend's purse. Ludwig was a white dental school student. The suspect in the killing is black.

The day The Sun ran the story about Ludwig's funeral on the front of the Maryland section, my column appeared, criticizing the police officers who had stopped my son as he left a 7-Eleven store toting a bag of doughnuts. The stop was illegal but not surprising, given that Baltimore police Commissioner Ed Norris has brought that style of policing to Charm City, courtesy of Mayor Martin O'Malley and a City Council whose members feast on a steady diet of Wimp Flakes. I implied that the O'Malley-Norris junta is running roughshod over the rights of every young black male in the city.

Some people think that's a good thing. Some looked at my column and then at the Ludwig article.

"Aha!" they exclaimed to me in letters and e-mail. "Doesn't that prove, Kane, that police were right to stop your son?"

No, it doesn't. My son was committing no crime and was minding his own business. To put him in the same category as a knife-wielding, purse-snatching thug is a vestige of lynch mob logic.

The term is an oxymoron, of course. There was only madness, not logic, in the lynch mob. But the thinking around 1910 or 1920 was that when some blacks committed crimes, society had a right and duty to punish all blacks, or as many blacks as it could. In the year 2000, Christian Ludwig is stabbed to death by a black man, and some whites feel every young African-American man in Baltimore should pay for it.

Lynch mob logic. It's the result of the unconstitutional, reckless, uncontrolled and racist policing that prevailed in New York and that O'Malley has imported to Baltimore. Some folks will now howl that I've proclaimed O'Malley and Norris racist, but I've said no such thing. You can't get more color-blind than O'Malley. Four New York City detectives - all black - said the same of Norris. But you don't have to be a racist to enforce racist policing. All the cops who enforced segregation weren't racist, but the statutes were.

Such reasoning probably won't take with those afflicted with lynch mob logic. For them, Ludwig's death "proves" the need for turning Baltimore's black communities into police states. But events prove different things to different folks. Those of us who've advocated a right-to-carry firearms law for Marylanders figure it proves that Ludwig's only mistake was pursuing the purse snatcher unarmed. If he had been armed with a handgun, the encounter might have ended differently - with Ludwig alive and the thug dead. That would still have been a tragedy, but one eminently preferable to Ludwig's death.

Maryland, long misruled by liberal Democrats, has chosen not to pass such a law. The liberal Democrats who have misruled Baltimore for eons want us to forfeit liberty and accept jackboot policing. O'Malley and Norris can perhaps be excused. Neither is a Baltimore native, hence neither knows that Charm City police have a history of contempt for black peoples' civil liberties.

They wouldn't know, for example, of the house-to-house raids cops made of black homes in 1964. Looking for two suspected cop killers, police were armed only with warrants for the arrest of brothers Sam and Earl Veney when they burst into homes and terrorized black citizens. It was Juanita Jackson Mitchell - the revered civil rights activist and matriarch of the Mitchell clan - who dragged city police into court for violating the Constitution.

O'Malley and Norris might not know about that, but those City Council members born and raised in Baltimore should. Those black O'Malley supporters who claim they want Norris' zero-tolerance policing in Baltimore should. All should be aware of the history of African-Americans in general and how they were policed over the years.

The policing extant in New York - and now Baltimore - smacks suspiciously of how blacks were policed during slavery. One hundred forty-three years ago, Roger B. Taney, then chief justice of the United States, wrote that the Constitution, with its Bill of Rights and guarantees of civil liberties, didn't apply to black people. Today, those afflicted with lynch mob logic think the same thing.

The sad irony is that all too many black people agree with them.

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