MAXWELL:  The rage of the enemy from within

9/10/1995 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


The Mark Fuhrmans of the nation are not black people’s most serious problem.

Black people’s most serious problem was dramatized in gory detail on Aug. 19, on the Belle Isle bridge in Detroit. There, according to witnesses testifying during the preliminary hearing, Martell Welch Jr., a black 19-year-old, probably caused the death of 33-year-old Deletha Word, also black.

Police report that, while on the island where young people come to cruise and party, Word accidentally bumped Welch’s car. Welch allegedly chased Word, overtook her on the bridge, stripped her to her underwear, dragged her from her car and smashed her head on the hood of her car five or six times. Then, he lifted her, carrying her toward the crowd of about 50 other motorists.

“Does anybody want some of this bitch?” he reportedly asked. “Because she has to pay for my car.” Welch stands over 6 feet and weighs more than 300 pounds. Word was 4-11 and weighed 115 pounds.

One witness said that Welch tossed Word onto the pavement, ran to his car, retrieved a tire iron or a crowbar, smashed Word’s car and came after her, screaming: “I’ll bust your brains out!”

Word climbed on the bridge wall. “You can’t get out that way,” Welch allegedly said. As he came for her, Word, who could not swim, jumped into the dark water 30 feet below. After she had jumped, Welch said, according to a witness, “Good for the bitch.”

Hours later, her body was found several miles downstream. One leg, probably severed by a boat propeller, was missing. Two other black men, both 20, also have been arrested in connection with this tragedy.

Let us assume that what witnesses report is true, that the threat of more torture caused Word to jump. If these accounts are true, white racism had little, if anything, to do with her decision.

In a general sense, Word’s death is the result of an apparently unshakable hatred that many black people harbor for one another. Moreover, her death is about the contempt that too many young black males have for their own people as a group and for black women in particular.

For this reason, many black women are appealing to gangsta rappers _ the angry group that probably has the most influence among young black males in hip-hop circles _ to stop writing lyrics and filming images that degrade black women. Such productions create hostile environments for black women in the real world.

What else except rage against black women would lead Welch to dehumanize and beat Word? To him, she apparently was not a person _ but a symbol of all that he did not want to be.

What else except hatred would make him so easily call Word a “bitch,” one of the most reviled names anyone can call black women, whose years in slavery reduced them to the status of breeding animals? What else except hatred would lead Welch to think that he had a right to hold this woman in the air and offer her for sex?

To what evil demiurge in his twisted cosmos was Welch sacrificing this woman? The Belle Isle bridge became an altar, a monument to life imitating the banal art in a gangsta rap video. In that video art world, young black males routinely treat black women, their sisters, like rancid meat.

Yes, like the young men who create the twisted fantasies in gangsta rap, Welch may have acted out one of his own fantasies of black women by sacrificing Word. But unlike the Old Testament’s Abraham, who answered a holy call to sacrifice his only son to fire, Welch answered the call of self-hatred and sacrificed his sister to water. For him, no sacrificial ram was in a nearby thicket, no angel of the Lord intervened to save his human victim.

Assuming police are right, Welch obeyed the demons that possess so many of his generation. If we visit a typical black community anywhere in the nation, we will find that Welch is far from being an aberration. Black-on-black crime is pandemic.

We also will find hapless black women, many too afraid to identify their torturers. How many of them have been driven to drink? To heroin or crack? To prostitution? To homelessness?

How many, like Word, have been driven to kill themselves?

The incident at Belle Isle underscores the self-mockery that devalues many aspects of black life. Sure, by resorting to the shell game of blame, we can find the roots of our self-hatred in our historical exploitation. And, God knows, we have been exploited and abused by a society of many racists, including Fuhrman.

But isn’t self-preservation a compelling enough force to make young black males like Welch rational?

Don’t they know that black women are black culture, black life itself? Black women are our wellspring, our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, lovers. In too many instances, they, and they alone, raise and nurture the children too many of our men abandon.

Deletha Word was one such woman: She was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter; she worked full time while studying for a bachelor’s degree in marketing; she had planned to open her own business. And she was the economic anchor of her close-knit family.

She cannot be replaced. Welch should have been his sister’s keeper. Instead, if police are proved correct, he became her executioner.

No black, especially journalists, should make excuses for this crime. None of us should rationalize Deletha Word’s horrible death. None of us should remain silent. This is our crime. And we have a moral duty to let the world know that we, too, feel collective outrage. The world must know that we will condemn the atrocities we commit against ourselves.

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