As the editorial page editor at the Atlanta Constitution and a frequent commentator on political talk shows, Cynthia Tucker is known as a compassionate and critical observer of today's political and social scene. Her experience has given Tucker an uncommon ability to take an informed, cogent look at the issues.
RACISM ALLOWS ATLANTA'S BLACK MAYOR TO CRY FOUL
Bill Campbell, Atlanta's combative African-American
mayor, is the subject of a federal investigation into
local corruption, and he is fighting back with a strategy
much overused by black officials who find themselves in
trouble. Campbell is accusing the feds of racism.
J. Edgar Hoover's shameful persecution of the Rev. Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., Campbell said, "The FBI has
never been a friend of the African-American community,
and they're not a friend now. ... I don't know that African-Americans
have ever had any confidence in the FBI."
Campbell's case, however, the claim of racism is unlikely.
The investigation is headed by two African-Americans --
U.S. Attorney Richard Deane Jr., in charge of the Northern
District of Georgia, and Special FBI Agent Theodore Jackson,
in charge of the bureau's Atlanta Division office.
Campbell is no Martin Luther King.
Campbell's accusations are playing well around some of
black Atlanta, a city with a broad and politically powerful
black middle class not easily misled by hysterical rhetoric.
Black ministers and academics as well as popular black
radio disc jockeys have joined in to defend Campbell and
berate the FBI.
is a reason Campbell's strategy still works, and those
who have never experienced racism might do well to consider
it: Black elected officials are unfairly prosecuted, even
now. In 1996, The Wall Street Journal reported evidence
of disproportionate prosecutions of black elected officials.
congressmen have faced criminal charges during the past
25 years, and 15 percent of them are minorities -- or
four times their percentage in Congress, according to
the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a
Washington think tank," the newspaper reported. Equally
disturbing, black congressmen sometimes received harsher
punishments than white ones for similar crimes, the Journal
newspaper compared the case of former Rep. Mel Reynolds,
an African-American who was prosecuted for sexual misconduct,
with the cases of three whites who were also members of
Congress when they were investigated and/or prosecuted
on similar charges: Donald Lukens, Dan Crane and Gerry
1995, Reynolds, an Illinois Democrat, was sentenced to
five years in prison for having sex with a 16-year-old
girl. By contrast, Lukens, an Ohio Republican, served
nine days of a 30-day jail sentence and paid a $500 fine
for a 1988 conviction on charges of having sex with a
Crane, an Illinois Republican, was only censured by the
House in 1983 for having sex with a 17-year-old female
congressional page. That same year, Studds, a Massachusetts
Democrat, was also censured by his colleagues for a sexual
affair with a 17-year-old male congressional page.
double standard has not disappeared since then. Take a
look at President Clinton's Cabinet. Of the five Cabinet
members investigated by independent counsels, four have
been members of ethnic minority groups (and three of those
four were black).
numbers surely cannot be coincidence. Nor is there any
reason to believe Cabinet members of color are more subject
to corruption than their white counterparts. Indeed, the
two cases that went to trial were practically laughed
out of court. Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was
exonerated; former Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary
Henry Cisneros pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor.
of that has anything to do with Campbell's case. While
the mayor claims that he is being set up because of his
fierce advocacy of affirmative action (by a Clinton Justice
Department that favors affirmative action, no less), the
federal investigation actually grew out of legitimate
suspicions about Atlanta's set-aside program for minority
business owners. The mayor has not been indicted or even
publicly accused of wrongdoing.
there is a deeper truth just beneath Campbell's wild rantings
about racism that creates support for him among his black
constituents: The criminal justice system is not yet color-blind.
As long as that is the case, politicians such Bill Campbell
will be able to gain sympathy by claiming they are victims