Shame, shame on mayor of Detroit

April 06, 2008|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Dear Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick:

So, it's a black thing? Not a sleaze thing, not a betrayal-of-the-public-trust thing, not a breaking-the-law thing? Just a black thing?

This would seem to be the message of the recent rally thrown for you at a black church in Detroit. It was, to judge from media reports, quite the shindig. Standing room only; gospel choirs doing that gospel choir thing; posters in red, black and green; chants of "I can make it through the storm!"

The church's Cardinal Ronald Hewitt seems to have caught the spirit of the event when he declared, "Kwame Kilpatrick just happens to be the symbol of bold, uncompromising black power in this city. We're not giving him to you. He is ours."

And there you were, with your bold, uncompromising self, standing in the pulpit, proclaiming, "I will humbly serve you till the day I die." O. J. Simpson and Michael Jackson would be proud.

I'm not comparing your alleged crimes to the murder and child molestation the courts say those two brothers didn't commit. All you did - allegedly - was swear under oath that you weren't intimately involved with your chief of staff, until a series of steamy text messages showed you two were getting busy like bunnies. Oh, and fire three cops who had gotten too close to the truth. Oh, and approve an $8.4 million settlement when lawyers produced said text messages.

But the reason I compare you to Juice and Mike is that, like them, when you got in trouble, you came running to us. The black community, I mean.

Granted, they had farther to run. Before the cuffs went on, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Simpson couldn't have found black America with a road map. The jock had ensconced himself in chi-chi Brentwood, where he was said to have built a world in which about the only things black were the busboys at the four-star restaurants. The moonwalker had - one of his top aides told me this once - peeled his skin the color of bones and carved himself a nose that would not be out of place on Tinker Bell, because his African features were abhorrent to him.

Yet, to listen to Mr. Jackson's brother Jermaine and Mr. Simpson's lawyer Johnnie Cochran, during their respective trials, they were some combination of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks and Kunta Kinte, targeted for the color of their skin, not the content of their criminal files.

"A modern-day lynching," said Jermaine, while Mr. Cochran said freeing Mr. Simpson would be a blow against racism. And black folks cheered the acquittals of these men like the Freedom Train had come.

It has become standard for high-profile brothers in trouble (think R. Kelly, Marion Barry, Mike Tyson) to wrap themselves - or be wrapped - in the flag of racial victimization. The claim that someone has been mistreated on account of race resonates powerfully for black people in a nation where the Jena 6, Genarlow Wilson, Marcus Dixon, Hurricane Katrina and other abominations are both recent memory and ever-present fear. Black folks tend to close ranks first and ask questions later when one of our own is in trouble, because we know the unfairness this country is capable of.

I honor my people for that.

But I'm sick of seeing our generosity cynically abused, our genuine fears manipulated, by brothers who have flat-out misbehaved. How often have we wasted political capital making racial martyrs out of guys like you?

As Public Enemy once said, "Some blacks act devil, too." We ought to remember that and guard our political capital more closely.

Frankly, Mr. Mayor, you remind of me of Eliot Spitzer, but without the class. What he did to a prostitute, you're doing to a people.

For that, sir, you should be ashamed.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears weekly in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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