Welcome home, convicted molester


IN SOME communities a convicted sex offender can expect to be ostracized. But if the offender is a former heavyweight boxing champion and the community is Harlem, he can look forward to a gala welcome-home celebration.

A so-called "welcoming committee" was formed to take part in a program at the Apollo Theater next Tuesday for the famous rapist, bully and longtime tormentor of women -- Mike Tyson. Among those listed as members of the committee were Rep. Charles Rangel; the former Manhattan borough president and chairman emeritus of Inner City Broadcasting, Percy Sutton; Assemblyman Al Vann; the singer Roberta Flack and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"Harlem plans big Tyson welcome party," said the lead headline in the weekly Amsterdam News. "Stars, a parade, street festival for the champ."

The story quoted Sylvester Leaks, who was identified as the chairman of the committee, as saying, "If the initial response is any indication, the turnout will surpass anything ever accorded any sports figure in New York or the entire nation."

I don't know how many women Iron Mike Tyson has to molest before he is seen by the pillars of the Harlem community as a bad guy and an inappropriate model for children, but whatever the number he hasn't reached it yet. I don't know how many times he has to turn his raging misogyny loose before it becomes clear to one and all that his mere presence is an affront to women, but whatever that number is he hasn't reached it, either.

It hasn't been for lack of trying. Once, while receiving an honorary doctorate at Central State University in Ohio, the irrepressible Mike Tyson enthused, "I don't know what kind of a doctor I am, but watching all these beautiful sisters here, I'm debating whether I should be a gynecologist."

The writer and former boxer Jose Torres, in a biography of Mike Tyson, quoted him as saying that the best punch he ever threw was one that hit his former wife, Robin Givens. "She flew backward," said Tyson, "hitting every [expletive] wall in the apartment."

According to Mr. Torres, Mike Tyson also said, "You know something, I like to hurt women when I make love to them . . . I like to hear them scream with pain, to see them bleed . . . It gives me pleasure."

None of this was enough to turn off the pillars of the Harlem community. Nor was Mike Tyson's conviction for raping Desiree Washington enough. Nor were the endless complaints of women who said they were groped and fondled by Mike Tyson against their will.

So the welcoming bash goes on as scheduled. Mr. Rangel, who has the most to lose from this unsavory association, said Thursday he did not realize he was part of a committee, although the complete list of committee members was published in the Amsterdam News. He said he had merely been asked by Mr. Sharpton to identify worthy charitable groups to whom Mike Tyson could give money. He said he opposed any "celebration" for a convicted felon.

Whoever knew what and when, this bash for a man who has a long history of abusive behavior should be shunned by anyone who believes women and girls have a right to respectful treatment.

"This sends absolutely the wrong message to everyone," said the writer Jill Nelson, who lives in Harlem. "The message to boys and girls is that abusing women is OK, that crime pays, and that bucks equal redemption -- that whatever you do, if you have enough money, you can buy your way out of it."

For black women in particular, any kind of celebration of Mike Tyson is an act of contempt. It gives comfort and support to the idea, expressed so frequently in the rap culture and acted out so tragically often in the real world -- that women are here primarily for two reasons: to serve men as vessels of pleasure and as objects to be brutalized.

Mr. Sharpton said Mike Tyson should be permitted to show that he is atoning for his sins. I agree. Let him do so quietly.

When the big shots of Harlem hold a gathering for Mike Tyson, they are putting an official face on the repulsive sentiment I heard so often from black teen-agers when Mike Tyson was on trial: "Oh, man, he ain't done nothin' wrong."

Bob Herbert is a New York Times columnist.

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