Ex-sergeant finds racism close to home


Over several years of writing a column, my mail has been littered with hate-filled and racist comments, mostly from white men. (One, a real cutup from Annapolis, recently wondered how long it would take the new "dark-complexioned" anchorman at Channel 13 to learn to pronounce Towson correctly.) In some twisted sense, I'm glad these people read and react to what I and others write for this newspaper; some even sign their names to letters. They're at least willing to say things -- in print -- most other racists either keep to themselves or speak only euphemistically. I suppose there's something to be said for that.

Once in a while, a letter in my "race relations" file surprises, even inspires.

Today, I'm sharing one that was written two days after the Million Man March by a retired Baltimore police sergeant -- white, suburban, middle-aged, as smart and as crusty as retired police sergeants come. The letter's author, with whom I am familiar, asked that his name not be published. I'll adhere to that condition, just to get this out where everyone can see it.

In his own words:

"I work out regularly at a local health club. Today, while doing the circuit, I observed three young black men standing in the corner near the end of the circuit talking in a quiet, and what appeared to me a very clandestine, manner. With my typical police cynicism and curiosity, I worked my way to where these men were and sort of eavesdropped.

"I was expecting to hear them conspiring about a bank robbery or some other violent crime. But to my shock and embarrassment they were discussing how Jesus Christ had affected their lives. I felt like apologizing to them and then crawling away. But what I did do was realize that I am a racist.

"What I did was judge a book by its cover, which I had been taught by my mother as something not to do. I don't know if this event will change my feelings about anything, but you can bet that I will be slower to judge my fellow man. Damn. A revelation for me at 58 years old." Better late than hate.

Not guilty

Judge Elsbeth Bothe of the Baltimore Circuit Court denies she had anything to do with those dings and dents on Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan's car in the underground garage. (I never said she did, did I?) In fact, Bothe says, it was Kaplan who had to pay her $260 a while back for backing his car into hers. So there.

Born to shop

The Walters is putting on a major exhibit of important antiquities called "Pandora's Box," devoted to the depiction of women in classical Greek art. Representatives of museums from all over the world, including the Parthenon and the British Museum, are in town. What's the first thing these multidegreed experts on ancient civilizations do when they get here? They celebrate modernity! They do The Gap, racing to buy as many 501s as they can get their hands on. It's a beautiful world.

Something fishy

Frieda Hermann, our Hamilton correspondent, was in downtown Baltimore on Friday and files this report:

"I went to the bank, and was overwhelmed by the smell of fish at a teller's window. I didn't say anything, though, on the chance the teller had some sort of glandular problem. She kept moving her head away -- I thought she had a really bad cold or something -- and finally she said, 'One of the fish people was just here. Usually they're not too bad, but this guy, phew!' Bank was near Lexington Market. Talk about your occupational hazards."

No comment

Speaking to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Friday, our governor decried the "wave of mean-spiritedness" sweeping the country and pledged to stop it at the Maryland border. This from the man who, first thing in office, stopped the state's $157 monthly grants to the disabled poor.

Alive and swinging

I'm kicking myself about taking so long to get back to the New Haven Lounge. My last visit was at least five years ago, way too long ago. Lately, I've been craving live jazz. So Friday night, we drove to Northwood Plaza, stepped out of the rain, ordered a couple of drinks and sat for the first set by the Dennis Fischer group. What a splendid surprise, too.

The trio, led by Fischer on organ, played straight-ahead stuff, but in fine style; sax man Lee Jeffries flashed some serious excellence. He showed skills as an accompanist, too, making his sax sing with Inetta McNeill when she joined the group around 10 p.m. (Ms. McNeill won the Billie Holiday Vocal Competition a couple of years ago.)

We'll have to go back for more, and I have an eye on two upcoming New Haven features: Wednesday night "blues and barbecue with Big Jesse" and Nov. 11 for the Carl Allen Quintet. If you love jazz in a friendly club, and been away too long, start your re-entry at the New Haven Lounge.

And be humble

Sign at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Gamber: "Carpenter's Apprentices Wanted. Apply within."

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