MAXWELL:  The misguided protect the wrong “rights’

9/3/1995 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


African-Americans often are their own worst enemy, as currently is the case at American Beach, the all-black enclave on the Atlantic Ocean in Nassau County about 4 miles north of Jacksonville.

For several decades, American Beach was “the place” where upscale blacks around the nation vacationed. In recent years, however, the big-spending professionals who came to American Beach to kick back, eat seafood, drink aged Scotch and listen to jazz and blues have been replaced by crowds of teenagers and young adults interested in other things.

These newcomers also have brought a different set of problems.

According to the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, residents constantly complain that beachgoers park vehicles in their driveways and yards, preventing residents from going and coming freely. Locals also say that guests play “loud music that jars their silverware and their glassware three or four blocks away,” throw litter in their yards and generally “raise hell.”

Over the years, the sheriff’s office has dispatched regular details of five to six deputies to patrol the area. Sometimes they handle crowds of as many as 6,000. In recent years, young people began bringing drugs and weapons to the area, and visitors have been shot or knifed, according to sheriff’s Capt. W. W. Carroll. He has been on the force for 19 years.

Recently, in addition to writing citations and making arrests on routine patrols, deputies began setting up driver’s license checkpoints at the main entrance. Carroll said the department established the roadblocks as an orderly way of spotting and heading off potential trouble. In 19 incidents on Aug. 27, when the checks started, for example, deputies either wrote tickets or made arrests for infractions such as driving under the influence or violating the open alcohol container law or driving with an invalid license.

Although the state attorney’s office, after studying Supreme Court rulings, approved the roadblock, a few residents, the American Civil Liberties Union and some NAACP officials have condemned it.

“We feel strongly that it is unconstitutional,” Robin Blumner, executive director of the Florida ACLU, told the Florida Times-Union. “The Fourth Amendment is supposed to keep police from invading your privacy when there’s no indication you’ve done anything wrong. These roadblocks turn that on its head.”

The ACLU and other detractors also argue that the sheriff is setting up the roadblocks to harass the beachgoers because they are black.

Not true, Carroll said: “Nothing is racially motivated. The officer in charge of the detail is black. We’re going there because of the complaints we’ve had from the blacks of our county. It’s the people who live there that want us down there because of the way out-of-towners come there and want to have their big time. Many of them basically run rampant. We want people who come to have a good time to have a good time. We want the local folk to enjoy their homes, too. We’re not against anyone _ except the lawbreakers.”

ACLU lawyers and other critics can invoke the Constitution all they want. The real issue is an age-old one: Too many blacks, without fear of punishment, routinely make the lives of other black people miserable.

For all the wrong reasons, critics point out also that deputies are not setting up checkpoints in area beach communities where whites go.

Well, of course not.

Whites are not disrupting the public tranquility of their own beachside communities. If they were, you can bet that the residents would call the cops, who would respond quickly and forcefully _ as they are doing at American Beach. The typical white neighborhood does not tolerate the kind of foul behavior that many black neighborhoods either excuse or ignore or accept as normal.

When I spoke a few days ago to a former colleague whom I have visited many times at his American Beach home, he said that he welcomed tough law enforcement.

“If the cops didn’t come out here, everybody would have to move,” he said. “The good old days are gone. The hotels, restaurants and nightclubs are closed, and some of our best houses are boarded up. It’s like these outside people are coming out here to finish us off. The young ones are the worst. They don’t respect anything. Three weeks ago when I asked one of them not park on my grass, he called me an old ugly motherf__- . My wife and grandson were sitting beside me on the front porch.”

Black property owners should not have to put up with such nonsense from other blacks (or from anyone else for that matter).

But reality is reality.

If area NAACP officials care about the rights of all black people, they would support the sheriff’s office in trying to give the residents of American Beach some peace of mind in their own homes and on their own property. Instead, many of these officials are following the ACLU _ which seems to have lost all sense of balance and common sense.

“When your own people disrespect you all the time, you get the feeling that nobody in the world gives a damn about you,” my colleague said. “With all the controversy going on right now, we’re going to have a very long Labor Day weekend out here.”

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.