- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

"You gotta believe me when I say this: All white people ain't bad and all black folks ain't good." Iona.
"Redemption Song," by Bertice Berry, is a harsh but heartwarming love story centered around the fortuitous discovery of a lost journal penned by Iona, a one-time illiterate slave and visionary. Iona's faith helps her to find forgiveness and transcend bigotry and its residual bitterness, and ultimately leads her to write an inspiring missive full of mother wit. She calls her directive "The Recipe of Life" and fills it with the secret ingredients that she believes will heal the broken spirits of black folks. Despite all Iona has suffered, including rape, she argues that nobody, no matter what color, can claim a corner on all that is good.
I couldn't help but think about the underlying message in "Redemption Song" when I heard the reactions of many black folks when we learned that the two persons arrested in the sniper attacks that paralyzed so many in the Washington area for three weeks were black men.
"Can you believe that was a brother?" was the constant chorus on urban radio stations last week.
"We're all acting like they are our cousins who just lost their minds and did something incredibly stupid," said one friend. "You know, black folks don't usually do that kind of thing," said another.
So hard was it for so many blacks to comprehend, some angrily took to the airwaves to suggest that the police had apprehended the wrong "brothers." "The real sniper is out there laughing at them," said one angry male caller on WMMJ-FM after the arrests on Thursday.
Yesterday, on the nationally syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show," the popular host derided these nonbelievers even as he pointed out that 20 percent of respondents on a black Web site blackamerica.com said that they still believed the police were scapegoating suspects John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17.
Mr. Joyner chided "c'mon," the evidence against these culprits is critical, comprehensive and chilling. And, the killings have since ceased.
My cousin, Yvette Monroe, who listens to the show locally, pointed out that the complexion of the sniper suspects never entered her mind as she waited nervously to catch the bus on her daily commute to her day-care job when the snipers were still on the loose.
"All I know is that it was some fool out there killing innocent people," she said, adding, "Why can't black people be the suspects? We do everything else." Then we started to tick off a laundry list of notable black folks, from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to defense attorney Johnny Cochran to Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose and others who provide balance on the other end of the good/bad spectrum.
Oh, thank heaven for Chief Moose.
He's a heroic man of a stellar stripe who presents impressionable children, especially black children, with a good-guy role model to juxtapose against the bad guys.
Obviously, it has been lost on many of us in this country not only blacks that like everybody else, blacks have been involved in previous serial killings. Wayne Williams comes immediately to mind. He was convicted of killing numerous black boys in Atlanta in the 1980s. And James E. Swann, the "Shotgun Stalker," terrorized the District's Columbia Heights neighborhood in 1993, killing four and wounding five in 14 attacks.
Has it been that long that we have forgotten that crime knows no color either with the victim or the villain? When will we finally learn that we are not safe anywhere.
Granted, our view of the sniper attacks was also colored by the so-called expert profilers who projected an "angry white male" face on the sniper. They, too, missed their mark.
What role did hidden racism play in stereotyping the potential culprit? Do only whites know how to handle long arms? Do only black males know handguns? Wonder what role proximity played in the erroneous profile?
The media frenzy was, as often, also fueled by location. Deserved or not, some blacks questioned whether there would have been wall-to-wall coverage had the killings been concentrated in a city with primarily black victims, and therefore a supposed black suspect? Believe it or not, some blacks even tried to allay fears by surmising that the sniper was afraid to come to the 'hood because he knew his shots would be returned there.
Sadly, the main reason most nonbelieving blacks don't want to accept that the serial snipers are "brothers" is because we've become accustomed to the unacceptable: black-on-black crime. We're painfully aware that black folks kill other black folks and that black criminals terrorize their neighbors, who must live in constant fear of stray bullets and break-ins with no media spotlight or law enforcement task force to come to their rescue.
Another cousin, who lives in a neighborhood in the District that is undergoing gentrification and who works with criminal offenders , said that the safest person walking in the 'hood is a white person. That's because most would-be assailants believe that they would get longer sentences if they harm a white person.
Though it is unspeakable, I suspect some have come to concede that a black life carries less value than any other. Therein may lie the basis of the disbelief, and why so many found it so hard to comprehend that "a brother" would be bold and bad enough to take the lives of so many even other brothers who live, learn, work and play in the suburbs.
If we have learned anything from this sordid crime spree, it's that "all white people ain't bad and all black folks ain't good." But the good, no matter what color, always triumphs over the evil.

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