Exact words don't tell the whole story about race

May 16, 2001|By Gregory Kane

IT'S ALL IN the quote, dear readers. Here are some sayings from folks and media sources that leave us with much to ponder.

"At the pleasure of." That phrase comes to us from former state Sen. Larry Young, now a talk-show host on Radio One's WOLB (1010 AM). When city Comptroller Joan Pratt fired Tony Ambridge, the more-than-capable real estate officer for Baltimore, there was Young, championing Pratt's decision and crowing that people like Ambridge serve "at the pleasure of" those like Pratt. That seems to describe the relationship of some city officials to other municipal employees as disturbingly seigniorial.

I argued with Young on air that neither Pratt nor any other city official could dismiss someone like Ambridge unless gross incompetence or misconduct in office was shown. This "at the pleasure of" business, I figured, could come back to bite Young in the butt. With police Commissioner Ed Norris' canning of Deputy Commissioner Barry Powell, the highest-ranking African-American on the force, it looks like it has. Remember, senator, Powell served "at the pleasure of" Norris, which the commissioner pointed out no less than three times before the City Council yesterday.

On to the next quote.

"When the reader of `Gone With The Wind' turns over the last page, he may well wonder what becomes of Ms. [Margaret] Mitchell's beloved characters, and their romantic, but tragic world." That came from U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell, who last month ruled that author Alice Randall's parody of Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" was not parody, but plagiarism. Randall's work - called "Wind Done Gone" - was scheduled to be published next month and retold the traditional "Gone With The Wind" story from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's mulatto half-sister. Pannell handed down his ruling in Atlanta, which is where much of "Gone With The Wind" takes place. Do you get the feeling from his quote that he's probably a big GWTW fan and wasn't the most impartial judge to hear the plagiarism suit filed by the guardians of Mitchell's estate?

And can't you hear fans of GWTW, the book and the movie, crowing over Pannell's trouncing of the First Amendment? His decision amounts to judicial censorship, which won't sway devotees of Scarlett and Rhett and Mammy or of Mitchell's bizarre tale of the Civil War and Reconstruction in which, even though the 13th Amendment has been passed, Mammy - Scarlett's loyal darky to the end - doesn't seem to have any inkling that she's no longer a slave. I guess I'll have to wait for that GWTW parody in which Mammy packs her bags at the Civil War's end and tells Scarlett O'Hara "Bye, fool!"

Next quote.

"Although [Jennifer] Stahl has never been arrested, drug investigators pinpointed her because she is a frequent flyer on a Barbados-to-Puerto Rico flight that is often used by drug dealers." That's from a May 12 New York Daily News story about Stahl, a 39-year-old "petite blond" former actress who had a brief appearance in the film "Dirty Dancing." Stahl was murdered last week in New York City when two gunmen barged into her apartment and executed her and two of her friends. Police found six pounds of marijuana and $1,800 in cash in Stahl's abode, along with drug packaging and labeling equipment. The Daily News story said police "characterized Stahl as a drug dealer who lived and worked out of [her] Seventh Ave. apartment" and that the victim "comes from a wealthy family."

It is such tidbits that raise even more questions. Why, exactly, wasn't Stahl ever arrested? (We can assume, as well, that she was never stopped and frisked on her returns from those Barbados-to-Puerto Rico flights.) Was it because she was white and rich, perhaps? Or were New York police so eager to get in the faces of - and shoot - Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond that they never even bothered with Stahl?

You've probably heard of Diallo. He's the African immigrant cops shot 19 times in early 1999 when he reached for his wallet. Police claim they thought it was a gun. The city and state of New York said "Whoops!" and moved on. Dorismond you may not have heard about. He was, like Diallo, a black man. Diallo had no criminal record, Dorismond only a minor juvenile one. Yet the police - who apparently knew about Stahl's criminal activity - figured guys like Diallo and Dorismond were more of a threat. When an undercover narcotics cop approached Dorismond and asked him to steer him to some drugs, Dorismond figured the officer was the dirt-bag drug dealer he was pretending to be. Dorismond responded harshly, words were exchanged, a fight ensued, Dorismond was shot dead and New York's finest had another "Whoops!" on their hands.

Had they bothered to arrest Stahl just once and left Diallo and Dorismond alone, all three might still be alive.

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