MAXWELL:  “Black’ means tolerating criminality?

5/17/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Few people are more contemptible than some self-anointed Keeper of Negritude who attempts to teach other blacks how to be black. This is precisely what happened on May 7, when the St. Petersburg Times published a letter of a well-known former head of the local chapter of the NAACP.

I was the butt of the blacker-than-thou missive. Here is the man’s first sentence: “Just when I was beginning to feel that columnist Bill Maxwell had regained his inborn knowledge of the black experience, he loosed a tirade of criticism against African-Americans.”

The “tirade” to which he refers is the subject of my April 30 column praising black residents of Washington, D.C., who turned in a black 16-year-old suspect. The boy allegedly shot seven other black teenagers, one critically, at the National Zoo on April 24. Washington’s black police chief, Charles H. Ramsey, also praised the residents for their help. Has Ramsey also failed to regain his “inborn knowledge of the black experience?” And what about the black mayor who also supports the actions of the residents? We should tell him how he has failed to regain his “inborn knowledge of the black experience.”

Our Mr. Black Man suggests, of course, that he is the true black and that I, the D.C. mayor and police chief are not because we do not believe in letting crime fester among our people. As all such fools and hypocrites do, he argues that, because blacks have been mistreated by the police, we must not cooperate with them when they come forthe bad guys destroying our communities.

To the contrary, I agree with writer Stanley Crouch, in the latest issue of New York magazine: “The greatest threat to black life and limb is not the police; it’s criminals in our community . . .”

Only a fool or a shameless hypocrite pandering to popular black opinion or to the affection of certain personalities would say otherwise. Let me tell you about my mother’s neighborhood in the mostly black area of Northwest Fort Lauderdale. Until I personally went to the police, she and her husband, both in their 70s, could not get a full night’s sleep. The black dope dealers raised hell from dusk to dawn _ chasing cars, yelling, fighting, urinating everywhere, playing loud music and often firing automatic weapons.

My sister and brother have to bring my mother and stepfather to their homes for the old couple to get a respite from the tyranny outside their front door. My stepfather often wants to confront the thugs with his own handgun, but I have advised him against it.

I went to the police. The major in charge of my mother’s neighborhood promised that his officers would do something. Next, I went to her congressman, the black city manager and the heads of the local NAACP and Urban League. “My mother and stepfather deserve some peace of mind in their home and should not be terrorized by their own people,” I tell these leaders.

Each time I visit home, I go to the police to either praise or condemn their efforts. Lately, I have been condemning them. A younger, bolder, meaner breed of pushers has moved into the area. My mother tells me, though, that things are a bit quieter because I went to the cops.

I will not apologize for removing criminals from the neighborhood where my mother lives, for helping her get a good night’s sleep, for removing the stench of urine from her front easement, for eliminating trash dealers leave behind.

Perhaps I am not black enough for my letter writer, but I am black enough to know that black criminals victimize their own people. And evidence tells me that black people here in St. Petersburg also need to turn in thugs who make life unsavory in many southside neighborhoods.

If we do not help the police, we deserve mayhem and dysfunction. When we refuse to snitch on a home invader, we invite him to repeatedly abuse us and our neighbors. When we turn our backs on drug deals near our homes, we help depress property values in our communities.

Given the claim of my letter writer to authentic blackness (read that as wrongheaded silence), I wonder how many black armed robbers ply their trade because he did not report them? How many black children use drugs because our authentic black brother did not snitch on dealers? I wonder if he knows any illegal gun dealers but would not rat on them?

The black wall of silence threatens “black life and limb” as much as the gangbanger who fires an AR-15 in a drive-by shooting. If tolerating criminality is being truly black, then I never will be truly black. If being truly black means being a fool, I must forgo the experience.