EXACTLY WHAT makes a hate crime? Apparently, the skin color of both victim and perpetrator, if two incidents are any indication.
Let's take the most recent incident first. It happened in Chicago on March 21. Thirteen-year-old Lenard Clark -- a black youth -- made the mistake of riding his bicycle across one of those racial divides that separates blacks and whites in all too many American cities. He paid dearly for his error.
According to news reports, Clark and two friends -- one black, one Hispanic -- had just finished playing basketball when they wandered into Bridgeport, an overwhelmingly white section of Chicago. They were accosted by three white youths who taunted and then attacked them. Clark's friends managed to escape, but the three white assailants caught Clark and beat him unconscious, leaving him in an alley. The youth is still in a coma at Cook County Hospital.
Belying reports that Bridgeport is a hotbed of anti-black hatred were residents of the area who scoured their community and helped police track down three suspects, ages 17, 18 and 19. The three are expected to be charged with attempted murder and committing a hate crime, but Chicago's blacks were outraged when the three were released on what they claimed was an inappropriately low bail.
Clark's beating has become national news. Not surprisingly, the good "Right Revvum" Jesse Jackson made the scene, appearing at the boy's bedside, according to some news reports, and criticizing the legal system for letting the suspects loose on bail.
Jackson and the national media were noticeably absent from Baltimore last November, when a similar incident happened. According to a story by Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, Mike Donlan saw a group of men "just beating the out of this guy." The whomping was going on about 20 feet from Donlan, who got out of his truck and yelled at the assailants to stop the beating.
The men stopped. The victim jumped up and headed for safer environs. Donlan then heard racial epithets directed toward him, at which point the hooligans extended an invitation for him to join their butt-kicking party. They gave Donlan the same merciless beating Clark received in Chicago. Donlan suffered a cracked skull and his nasal septum was pushed out of place. The thugs beat him so badly, Mike Donlan's older brother Wally Donlan didn't recognize him.
What are the differences in the two cases? Donlan is white. His assailants -- who have not been apprehended -- are black. Though they made several references to his skin color as they beat and stomped him into unconsciousness, it's doubtful they'll be charged with a hate crime, assuming, of course, they are ever caught.
My supposition is not without basis. In 1991, Pedro Lugo, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was walking in a park when three black men bludgeoned him with a baseball bat and left him with lifelong injuries. They were tried and found guilty of attempted murder. Charging them with committing a hate crime was probably never considered. That law seems to be exclusively reserved for white assailants.
As does outrage among some African-Americans. Had Lenard Clark been walking the streets of Los Angeles and been mistaken for a Blood or a Crip, he'd have met the same fate -- or worse -- that he met in Bridgeport. The despicable beating of Clark should not cloud the issue: Most young black men in America today are most in danger of being harmed by other young black men. It's time black folks start getting outraged about that.
It's also time for all Americans of all races to look past the issue of race in both the Clark and Donlan cases and see that violence in America is a male issue. The Chicago race riot of 1919 was actually a male riot, with boys and men of both races from the ages of 15 to 22 being the main culprits. I'd like to see a study done showing why boys and men between the ages of 14 and 24 suddenly become susceptible to being seduced by the dark side of the force.
Of course, we'll never see the term "male riot" become a part of our language as race riot has. That would put men behind the 8-ball and raise the question of whether randomly lobotomizing every third male child would help make our streets safer. But the idea of violence being almost an exclusively male thing will never be addressed, as long as men are running society.
Pub Date: 3/30/97