News - Mayhem's 'martyrs'

King's dream already sold

The heirs of Martin Luther King Jr. have been catching a lot of grief over their decision to allow use of his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in a TV commercial.

While we can debate the tackiness of this episode (What next, the ghost of JFK shilling for Texas Instruments?), it seems to me rather unfair to criticize the Kings for cashing in on The Dream and somehow soiling it.

After all, King's political heirs in today's civil rights establishment have so perverted his vision that it is hardly recognizable. So there's rather little left to soil or sell out.

You remember the central tenet of King's vision: People should be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Alas, the modern civil rights movement has become obsessed with skin color, but is fairly cavalier when it comes to character. The recent blowup in Cincinnati is a perfect case in point.

Riots erupted after an unarmed black teenager, Timothy Thomas, was shot by a white police officer. Thomas was the 15th black man killed by police in the last six years, a statistic Al Sharpton and Kweise Mfume and their fellow professional racists held up to justify the media frenzy they fanned.

But if you slow down to look at the facts, as the folks at the Cincinnati Enquirer did, a very different picture emerges.

One police "victim" had hacked the 15-year-old daughter of his girlfriend to death with an ax and held police at bay for four hours. Another, after a cocaine bender, jumped on a car in traffic and shouted that he was going to shoot someone, before he was tackled by police and whacked on the head. A third member of this fraternity flagged down a police car and fired four shots at the officer inside before she managed to shoot back.

Another man had robbed a credit union and lunged at an officer with a two-by-four studded with rusty nails. Then there was the man wanted for armed robbery who led police on a chase in a stolen car and opened up on them with a handgun. And Alfred Pope, who had racked up 18 felony charges by age 23, robbed and pistol-whipped three people and pointed a gun at the officers who chased him.

Courtney Mathis, age 12, was driving a stolen car when he was stopped by a cop. When the skeptical officer asked this child for a driver's license, Mathis floored it, dragging the officer 800 feet before he managed to shoot Mathis to save himself. Unfortunately, the cop hit his head on the exhaust pipe of another car and died.

And then there's our latest "victim," Mr. Thomas. He had more than a dozen outstanding misdemeanor warrants, escaping twice before from officers who tried to apprehend him. Spotted outside a club late at night, he fled again, leading police down a dark alley in a dangerous neighborhood. The officer who shot him says he saw Thomas reaching for something in his waistband.

So do we believe a man sworn to uphold the law and forced to make a split-second decision in a dark and dangerous place, or a teen-ager who repeatedly flouted the law and precipitated a fatal confrontation?

If you judge based on "content of character," you give the benefit of the doubt to the policeman, barring concrete proof of misconduct. But if you judge based on skin color, you turn Thomas into a martyr.

Thomas' mother issued a call for "peace" until a grand jury can probe the shooting. But she went on to say that if the officer who "murdered" her son isn't indicted, all bets are off. She wants the justice she wants; facts are beside the point.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, only one of the 15 fatal incidents in Cincinnati could remotely be attributed to racial profiling — police stopping someone, without justification, based on skin color alone. An officer was reprimanded in that case and, in another where a man suffocated while in police custody, two officers have been indicted.

This is indiscriminate police abuse? City officials turning a blind eye to the wanton disregard for the lives of young black men? Only if you don't let those pesky facts get in the way of racial demagoguery.

When Coretta Scott King is asked what her husband might say about this or that event, she demurs, saying she doesn't speak for her husband. So I won't presume to do so here.

But, speaking as someone with great admiration for Dr. King, I would like to think he would be less than amused by a culture of victimization that regards character and individual responsibility as trivialities — and that too often uses his good name as camouflage.??

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