Portraits in Prejudice

Straight Talk About 'Big Brother,' White Women, Suspicious Blacks, Unruly Latinos, and Racial Profiling Says How Race Is REALLY Lived in America

In the last five minutes of the banishment episode, CBS Early Show newsreader Julie Chen, who anchored the one-hour Big Brother show, brought up the Daily News report linking Ashantee to Muhammad. Ashantee defended Muhammad, saying there should be more activists like him. He added, however, that he had not been an active Party member for four months. Unless he totally renounces his role in the group, Ashantee can't be banished from the "liberated zone," the separatist New Africa the Panthers hope to set up. "In the black community, and in rap music culture, there is what is called a 'Ghetto Pass,' " Muhammad declared. "We are gathered here today because we don't want our brother, and my Li'l Brother, Hiram Ashantee—slave name William Collins—to have his 'Ghetto Pass' revoked. We don't want him to lose his 'Ghetto Pass.' "

While Khallid Abdul Muhammad does not share the integrationist aspirations of the people portrayed in "How Race Is Lived in America," the 15-part series about the state of race relations as examined by The New York Times, neither does Michael DePompo. In a recent letter to me, DePompo, who lives in one of the outer boroughs, vents, using suspected criminal behavior by blacks and Latinos as a euphemism for the racial tension he feels keeps the city on edge.

What ticked DePompo off was my July 18 article, "Cocaine and Conspiracy: Were the Deaths in Custody of Two Suspected Drug Users 'Accidental' or Police Brutality?" Relatives and friends of Maliki Raymond and Dionicio Medrano, both 24, had raised doubts about unrelated events that led to fatal drug overdoses by the young men, who were black and Latino. Instead of showing compassion, DePompo invoked bigotry.

"Am I supposed to feel sorry for them?" he asks. "I don't think so. I wish people would stop defending criminals and drug addicts and make them responsible for their own actions." So what if cops allegedly used brutal force to apprehend Raymond and Medrano? "The police had to deal with this scum," DePompo adds, "and a beating here and there [helps] them." He blames the victims' families for their deaths, dredging up timeworn, racist theories about dysfunctional minority households.

"It's a beating they never got at home, because mommy was too busy out meeting guys and daddy was nowhere to be found," DePompo asserts. "It is a shame they died. But you know what, if they had lived, they would have continued a life of crime—[they would] have put innocent people in danger and cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars in court and prison costs. Just think of this as saving society."

Strong language? That was DePompo's warm-up tirade, the hallmark of a bigot. Apart from his distaste for my "defense of criminals," DePompo confesses he doesn't feel safe in the presence of blacks and Latinos, who he suspects are prone to assault him and other whites as they commute to and from the city. "[W]ith your thinking," he scolds me, "I am supposed to feel sorry for these lowlifes."

According to DePompo, "a black guy, definitely on some sort of drug" got on a train in Staten Island, recently. "He sits down and starts playing his boombox, and very loud. Now we are all commuters, going home from an honest day of work, none of us need to hear this." Although enraged by the black commuter's uncouth behavior, he says nothing. But another white man protests. "A gentleman sitting next to him asks him to stop playing the radio. Now the black guy is yelling, cursing and threatening him. 'If I had my knife I would stab you, you white motherfucker!' Real nice, and very racial, I may add," says DePompo, reflecting on the encounter.

DePompo claims that the obnoxious "black guy" began talking with two other black men while "eyeing" the white commuter who was complaining to the conductor. When the white man got off at his stop, the black men "run out and jump him." In DePompo's story, the potential murderers were promptly apprehended. "Luckily there were six police academy cadets and two undercover cops on the train to help or the white guy would have been killed," he contends. "Bad enough, he was cut and bleeding."

Shortly after that alleged incident, DePompo and some friends had another run-in with two unruly commuters. Off the bat, DePompo assumed that the men, one whom he determined to be Puerto Rican, the other white, were "obvious drug addicts."

"One is drinking a beer, the other is pulling down his pants to show an elderly woman his butt. Next they decide to sit [next to] us, and they get into our conversation and start asking us where do we think drugs come from. We are ignoring them because they are looking for trouble." The "drug addicts" then begin "talking about Mayor Rudy Giuliani having sex with 13-year-old girls, and President Clinton bringing in drugs to this country."

Again, DePompo relies on one of his white friends to speak out. "One of my friends tells them to leave us alone, we . . . work hard all day and are discussing things," he claims. "They start cursing at us and we think they are going to start fighting. Everything was quiet, and then their stop came and they got off. We were very lucky, because who knows if these criminals had guns or knives on them and what they were capable of. We just wished there were police officers on the train who would have thrown these criminals off."

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