COLUMN LEFT : Black on Black Crime--Does Anyone Care? : Blacks who prey on other blacks are hoods and should be run out of our neighborhoods.

<i> The Rev. Jesse Jackson writes a syndicated column from Washington</i>

Several days ago, I received a letter from Mark, a 21-year-old African American who lives in Washington. He described himself as a “clean-cut and responsible young man” who once was gainfully employed. On Feb. 23, while walking to a church revival, Mark said, he saw a group of black teen-agers chasing two other teens. As he attempted to get out of their way, gunfire erupted. Seconds later, “I felt my chest on fire.” Mark blacked out and did not regain consciousness until several days later.

When he woke up in Howard University Hospital, he was told he had a bullet in his lung. For eight days his life hung by a thread. Now he’s going through a slow and painful recovery. He owes the hospital tens of thousands of dollars. He can’t work. He lost his apartment. He is angry. I am furious!

Mark is angry because he feels no one cares about his predicament. The media never reported his story, he said; the thugs, murderers and drug dealers who poison the community seem to get all the press attention. The community, he feels, is silent. Every social service agency that he turned to for help just referred him to yet another agency.

Before I attempted to call Mark, I felt as though I already knew him. Over the years, I have visited and prayed with many innocent victims of senseless crimes. I have held the hands of countless mothers and fathers in hospital waiting rooms and at cemeteries, as I shared in their grief the loss of a child killed in the dawn of life.


After finishing Mark’s letter, I wondered: If he had been shot by a group of white teens or by a white police officer, would he be in the state that he is in today? I don’t think so. First, the African American community would have rallied behind him. The press would have camped outside his hospital room seeking the first interview. He probably would have gotten a call from the President. All of the mayoral candidates in Washington would have found time to visit him. And somehow, that hefty hospital bill would have been taken care of.

Patterns have shown that whenever a white person attacks a black person, there always is a public outcry from the African American community, as was the case in Bensonhurst and Howard Beach, N.Y., and, just last month, in suburban Teaneck, N.J. When a white-on-black crime occurs, preachers call in the business leaders. They call in the community activists and they all flood my office with telephone calls. Everyone is mobilized and a press conference is held. Cries go out for grand jury investigations and for the appointment of a special prosecutor. The next morning the attack is headline news.

When the situation is reversed and a black kills a white, there is even more public anger and calls for capital punishment and cries to find the money to build more jails.

But why is it, I wonder, that when blacks are the victims of crimes by other blacks, the African American community freezes and almost becomes silent? There appears to be a tolerance and helplessness. In many cases those who commit the crimes are given sanctuary in the community. If a person dressed in a white sheet and a hood committed a crime in the black community there would be no tolerance or sanctuary. Justice would come swiftly. Yet blacks who prey on other blacks are hoods and should be run out of our neighborhoods. The same cries for special prosecutors and grand jury investigations should be heard from the community.

A recent Justice Department report said that blacks are nearly six times more likely to be murdered than whites, and are victims of other violent crimes more frequently than whites. What the report did not mention was that, by and large, the perpetrator as well as the victim is black.

Last year, 438 homicides were committed in the nation’s capital. That figure was higher than the year before. No doubt the homicide rate for 1990 will be even higher. In a city that’s 70% African American, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of the victims and attackers were black.

If any segment of our society is viewed as weak, it will be preyed upon. Citizens must show zero tolerance for crimes no matter the color of the attacker.

As for you, Mark, calls have been made to the proper agencies in an effort to ease some of your burdens. You will not become a forgotten faceless statistic.