Sharing the Fear of Crime Victims

By Richard Cohen Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 23, 1993 | Go to article overview

Sharing the Fear of Crime Victims


Richard Cohen Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Back in 1986, I wrote a column about the practice of certain Washington shopkeepers to keep their doors locked - mainly to keep young black men out. I not only noted the practice itself, but said that if I were a shopkeeper I would do the same. I knew I had written a controversial column, one I hoped would provoke discussion. Instead, it provoked a scream of pained outrage from the black community and the labeling of me as a racist. I've had better discussions.

Now, though, comes Jesse Jackson to pithily paraphrase what I wrote: "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery - then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Jackson made those remarks before a Chicago group of African-Americans and he insisted that I cite both the venue and the context. He was talking, he said, about his own crime-plagued Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

"Four people have been killed near my own block," Jackson told me. "Last year, my home was broken into. A storekeeper was shot." He went on to say that his neighbors were relieved that whites were moving into the area. Maybe now, they reasoned, they would get sufficient police protection and their neighborhood would be safer.

If Jackson meant by his Chicago remarks that his relief at seeing "somebody white" came from thinking they would get better police protection than African-Americans, then he has not said what many people think - that he was relieved to discover that he was not being stalked by a young, black male. But placing his words in context does not really change their importance. Jackson was talking about Urban Subject No. 1: the inordinate amount of crime committed by young black males.

How wonderful! Maybe now we can discuss such issues as urban crime without charges of racism being hurled back and forth. In fact, the reason I tackled the subject in the first place was the conviction of one storekeeper that he had turned his back on his most basic values. He was a white liberal, but he considered what he was doing racist.

I did not. A racist white cab driver, for instance, will not pick up any blacks. But what can we call an African-American cab driver who will not pick up young black males? …

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