MAXWELL:  The missing outrage

11/6/1996 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


On the afternoon of Oct. 24, TyRon Mark Lewis, an 18-year-old black male, was shot to death by a white police officer, and the incident ignited the worst violence St. Petersburg has seen in a generation.

It also sparked general outrage in the black community, galvanized the city’s off-and-on civil rights establishment and gave city officials new impetus to court Washington for federal anti-poverty dollars. And Lewis’ funeral, financed mostly by individual donations, attracted more than 400 mourners. Even the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, national president of the Southern Leadership Conference in Atlanta, delivered the eulogy.

The same night Lewis was shot, another black man, 26-year-old Andre Miller, was murdered when he tried to alert fellow tenants in his apartment complex that a gang was breaking into cars and stealing stereos. Witnesses say that members of the gang, all black men, opened fire and killed Miller on the spot.

If this newspaper had not reported the shooting, Miller’s death would have gone unnoticed. No community outrage arose, and the civil rights establishment has not spoken out as it did in the Lewis shooting. City Hall and the churches have not sought President Clinton’s help in tackling black-on-black crime.

Why? Because Miller’s killers are said to be blacks _ not a white cop. Aware of this double standard, Edna Barnes, a sister of the woman who reared Lewis, offered a chilling observation: “This was black on black. We’ve created problems of our own. We have to start doing something about it.”

Barnes is right. Although black-on-black crime poses one of the greatest threats to African-American culture, most leaders and average residents ignore the pleas of people like Barnes, who know that if blacks are to help themselves, they must become outraged when a black male guns down another black person.

Ironically, soon after the Million Man March in October 1995, Clinton spoke to a mostly white audience at the University of Texas at Austin about white people’s fear of black people, especially males. “Violence for white people too often comes with a black face,” he said. What the president did not say is that for black citizens, violence too often comes with a black face.

For the last several reporting periods, the Bureau of Crime Statistics has shown that blacks commit nearly half of the murders and robberies nationwide, and the overwhelming majority of their victims are other blacks. From 1987-1992, among black males 16 to 24, the rate of violent crime was more than 50 percent higher than the rate for white males of the same age, and most of these crimes were committed against other blacks. Young black adults were more likely than white youth to be victims in crimes involving handguns.

But the fratricidal carnage continues. Two days after Lewis’s burial, Romond Demetric Gomillion, a 23-year-old black, was gunned down in the parking lot of a convenience store in St. Petersburg. Witnesses say his killer was another black man.

Where is the outrage?

As he eulogized Lewis, Lowery acknowledged the troubling double standard: “We’ve got to stop this hatred that’s making us kill each other. We’ve got to be just as upset when a black person kills another black person.”

Despite efforts to find money to create jobs and help establish small businesses, attitudes toward black-on-black crime must change before any real progress can be made in St. Petersburg’s African-American community. This is a problem that reflects a people’s character. No black male should die at the hands of another black male while the rest of us stand by silently simply to avoid offending political sensibilities or becoming unpopular.

Where is the moral outrage?

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