Cries of double standard trail mayor's Jessamy remarks

THIS WAS supposed to be the column in which I defended, kind of, Mayor Martin O'Malley against charges that he offended all black women when he delivered his public, profanity-laced tirade against Baltimore State's Attorney Pat Jessamy, who is black and female.

That was before I went to the Wednesday night vigil in which at least 100 black women, a couple of dozen black men and quite a few whites gathered in front of City Hall. They held up signs, some of which read "Mr. Mayor, African-American women will not be devalued," "Mr. Mayor, African-American women will not tolerate profanity," "Mr. Mayor, African-American women demand respect" and "Mr. Mayor, No more profanity."

There was the obligatory demand for an apology, of course - this being the age when only white, heterosexual males are required to apologize for almost everything. The women are off base, I was supposed to write. O'Malley's outburst had nothing to do with Jessamy's race or gender. It may have been done to divert attention from the cops and that still unexplained integrity unit break-in, during which Officer Brian Sewell's files vanished, but the remarks were directed at Jessamy's performance in office.

She may be black and female, but as an elected official, she has to take her lumps like everyone else. This criticism of O'Malley, I was going to write, comes from those black folks still resentful that O'Malley is white, male and beat their candidates of choice, former City Council President Lawrence Bell and Carl Stokes, in the mayor's race.

Yeah, I was supposed to write all that for this column, call it a wrap, and then disappear into the hinterlands of Maryland for a nice weekend wrestling tournament. But, for the life of me, I can't get that double-standard accusation out of my mind.

City Comptroller Joan Pratt was there. She explained why. "I understand [O'Malley's] frustration," she said. "I've been as frustrated or more frustrated. But he's the highest elected official in the city. I don't think it was appropriate to use profanity with anyone."

City Councilwoman Helen Holton of the 5th District was the first to address the double-standard issue. "He did not express that outrage against [Housing Commissioner Paul] Graziano" for making anti-gay remarks in a bar, Holton said. "As angry as he was with [District] Judge [Martha] Rasin, he didn't use that type of language" when the two traded barbs over his criticism of the city's judicial system.

Thelma Daley, president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, who organized the vigil, agreed. She repeated what she wrote in a letter to the mayor. "I told him he was very mellow in talking to the housing commissioner. It was a vast difference in the way he talked to Jessamy, and it was discriminatory."

State Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV of the 44th District said O'Malley didn't get angry with Graziano. "He sat quietly by when Graziano gave his statement," Mitchell said.

When O'Malley was a city councilman from the 3rd District, he excoriated departed housing commissioner Daniel Henson and former police Commissioner Thomas Frazier on a regular basis. It was not long ago that O'Malley referred to Frazier as a "tyrant." But in none of those criticisms was profanity used. The only difference between Jessamy and Henson, Frazier, Rasin and Graziano is that the state's attorney is black and female.

O'Malley addressed the double standard at a news conference, claiming that the question implies he is a racist. No, Mr. Mayor, only a tiny minority of blacks think you're a racist. Most of us know that if some disease struck white Americans and caused them all to become virulently racist, you'd probably be the one white person in America who would not be racist.

O'Malley, to his credit - and his critics seldom, if ever, mention this - went to a rally in Prince George's County to protest the police killing of a black man named Artie Elliott. Most black elected officials in the state steered clear of that one. So we know O'Malley's not a racist. We're just trying to understand what's going on with him and Jessamy. It wasn't just the mayor's profanity. His tone suggested that he considered Jessamy - an official elected citywide, just as O'Malley was - not as his equal, but as his subordinate.

Perhaps O'Malley thought he could browbeat Jessamy into prosecuting Sewell, the cop who was accused of planting drugs on a burglary suspect. He should have known better. When Jessamy refused to prosecute Officer Charles Smothers for the 1997 shooting death of James "Knifeboy" Quarles, she weathered worse criticism. She went through it again when she refused to prosecute officers Barry Hamilton and Robert Quick in the shooting death of a career thug named Larry Hubbard. Jessamy's been called a "handkerchief-head" by some of her own people and handled it nobly and professionally. Did O'Malley really think his potty-mouthed invective would rattle her?

Perhaps we'll never know. But one thing the mayor should ponder is this: In the matter of deciding whom Jessamy will prosecute, time has proven that our much-maligned state's attorney is usually right and her critics egregiously wrong.

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