MAXWELL:  A handful of black criminals makes the rest of us look bad

4/21/2002 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


One thing most white people will never understand is that the individual black person, male and female, represents the entire black race when the individual’s behavior or opinions are negative or are perceived as negative.

White people do not have this problem. Each individual white woman or man represents herself or himself. Period.

Just think: If I, a black male, do something deemed bad by the majority culture, I represent all African-Americans, even total strangers. And the black thug who sells drugs next to a public school represents me.

On the other hand, I _ the successful writer _ do not represent the thug. Follow me: If I do something good, I do not represent my race. Instead, I become a useful cliche, one of those grotesque figures whom white people use to unload their guilt and to deny their real complicity in black history. You know the grotesque figures of which I speak, as expressed in phrases such as: “He’s an exceptional black,” “She’s really smart,” “He’s a real hard worker,” “She’s the sweetest black gal you ever met.”

Majority society everywhere particularizes the good deeds of individual blacks. But it generalizes the bad deeds.

In other words, a bad black is the Black Everyman. A good black is herself or himself _ only.

Which brings me to the illustrative section of this column. In St. Petersburg, where I reside, work and play, black people everywhere are being given a bad name by a handful of black criminals. I am ashamed and embarrassed. This sorry mess reflects on me personally.

My county _ Pinellas _ is one of the most racially segregated in the state. A major reason is that too many wealthy white people in the northern region believe that most of St. Petersburg _ especially the black area called Midtown _ is violent and dangerous.

Why is St. Petersburg perceived as being dangerous? Because of the crimes black people commit.

To wit, a short list: In January, when the police tried to arrest a black man for possession of crack cocaine and marijuana in a well-known open-air drug market, about 30 black people gathered and began heckling the police. After the man was put into a cruiser, someone in the crowd threw an explosive device near the officers. The device exploded, and five officers required medical treatment for a nosebleed, ringing ears and powder burns.

Think of that: Black people so brazen as to attack the police to protect a known drug dealer. What message about blacks in general was sent to the majority culture? What message was being sent about black individuals?

What sane white person or law-abiding out-of-town black person would want to visit Midtown? Consider this diatribe hurled at the police by a black man in the crowd: “This isn’t your neighborhood, and these aren’t your streets. We own the streets down here and you motherf___ need to get the f_- out.”

The message to white people and to decent black people is clear: KEEP OUT.

In March, seven students from the University of Alabama came to Midtown to spend their spring break helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house in a poor black neighborhood. Seven innocent kids came here to help better the lives of African-Americans.

And how do my black brethren reward these guests?

As the students worked one morning, they heard loud profanity between two men across the street. Tensions increased and 15 cars drove up. Forty men threw punches and some fired guns. The students were forced to duck and run for safety.

Who will blame these kids if they departed believing that, because of their experience here, all black people (including me) are bad? Obviously, I have no way of knowing, but the black males who fired those guns may have convinced a future bank president or a real estate mogul that all black people are bad.

That prospect angers me. It saddens me. It scares me.

Several days ago, a 31-year-old nurse, a black woman in Midtown, had to huddle her five children into a back utility room to protect them from AK-47-style rounds flying through her house. The police report that 58 bullets pierced the home. Her car was shot up, too.

No one inside the house was injured. But Jacobie Spradley, 24, who was outside, was fatally shot in the chest. He was the second black male to die from semiautomatic gunfire in this neighborhood during the last 30 days.

“We’re beginning to see an increase in the use of these guns in certain crimes,” Sgt. Mike Puetz of the St. Petersburg Police Department told the St. Petersburg Times. “They seem to have taken on a desirability by some people who may be involved in the drug trade or some other illegal activity. Part of it may be the availability, and part of it may be that it is a great weapon from an intimidation sake.”

Intimidation sake? Exactly who is being intimidated the most? I will tell you: White people who could help spur economic development in this wasteland. Until white dollars start flowing, life will remain a crap shoot, and every black person will be viewed as a dangerous, threatening creature to be avoided.

The surest way to reverse this trend is for us _ black people _ to turn in the elements who persist in making life intolerable for the rest of us. We know who the shooters are. We know who the drug lords are.

They represent us _ black people who want to live decent lives. They hurt us. We need to get rid of them. We need to snitch on them.