For Blacks, Race Is the Reason
By Lisa Frazier
To the many African Americans who flooded the offices of Maryland leaders with telephone calls, faxes and electronic mail, the case of Larry Young was less about his alleged ethical violations than about race and double standards.
Although many black people said the well-connected, well-liked Baltimore senator had made mistakes, they stressed that the issue was not whether Young was guilty of using his public office for personal gain. The real question, they said, was whether expulsion was too severe a punishment, given that it was unprecedented in the Senate's history and that Young has not been charged with any crime.
"I thought it was terrible. That was the biggest railroad I've seen in my life," said Prince George's County Council member Isaac Gourdine, who is black, after watching the hearing from the balcony of the Senate. "I can see them censuring him for making errors, but to expel him is atrocious. I think it was racially motivated. If he was a white guy, this never would have happened."
Ron Johnson, an African American from Silver Spring, said as he left the State House, "I think there was a lack of due process. . . . I'm not saying he was innocent. There were some allegations I was really concerned about. But to take the action they did was like a death penalty for a politician."
Although the Senate's vote broke down almost entirely along racial lines, senators said they doubted that the vote will divide them. But they were less sure about what will happen in their communities.
"I think it will cause major division in the community at large," said Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D), an African American from Prince George's County, who voted against expulsion.
But Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a white Democrat from Montgomery, dismissed race as a factor in Young's expulsion.
"It has nothing to do with it," she said. "Any one of us would have been treated the same way."
To understand the anger and frustration that many African Americans feel about the fall of Young, one must first understand the gritty streets that produced him. Young's District 44 in Baltimore is one of the poorest in the state. More than half of the families there live on an annual income of less than $15,000 a year.
But those who know him said Young, despite his rise from those same streets, never forgot the people who put him in power.
"He's a person you can get in touch with easily," said Atibah Nkrumah, a 53-year-old resident of west Baltimore. "He will help you regardless of your station in life. He's not going to find out if you're a registered voter first."
Del. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), who grew up in Baltimore, was 12 years old and living in a foster home on Fulton Avenue in west Baltimore when he met Young.
"Larry Young would pitch in and help me find jobs," Muse said. "When I went to college at Morgan State, he would often provide money for a whole lot of us from the neighborhood who didn't have anything. He kept up with me through 11 foster homes until I was adopted. He stood with me. I have to stick with him."
Muse, who is also a minister, said he worked recently with Young, a deacon, in organizing a spiritual revival that drew more than 20,000 people three nights in a row to Camden Yards in Baltimore.
"People love him," Muse said. "He got preachers to come together who would never come together. He appeals to people who normally don't involve themselves in the political process. Many of them voted for the first time when they voted for Larry."
For the disenfranchised, Young was the connection to a political process that seemed distant and, in many ways, foreign. They went to Young for help with problems big and small, and more times than not, he responded, his constituents said.
"He shows a great deal of concern for his constituents," said C. Vernon Gray, a political science professor at Morgan State University and a Democratic member of the Howard County Council. "No issue was above or beneath him for him to use his influence to try to assist."
As Louis C. Fields, a Baltimore photographer and writer, took his seat in the balcony of the Senate yesterday, he was in no mood for questions, but he explained his support for Young this way: "We support Senator Young because he supports us."
Fields and other Young supporters left angry and dejected after watching the hearing yesterday.
"I'm feeling that all of the prenotions that we had as far as the citizens of Baltimore have come to light," said community activist Eartha Harris, who is African American. "Economically, we're no better off than we were 50 years ago. Politically, we're still discriminated against. We're trying to integrate into a system that's not set up for us."
Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) said his office received about a dozen telephone calls and several faxes yesterday from constituents urging him to vote against expulsion.
"The feeling on this issue is the strongest I've seen since being here," said Currie, who was elected in 1986.
Franklin Jackson, an African American lawyer who lives in Prince George's, said many African Americans are already suspicious about the political process and strongly suspect that Young is being punished excessively for what happens often in politics.
"People are so cynical about politics anyway that this [set of allegations] is not something that's out of the ordinary," Jackson said. "People feel that politicians generally engage in behavior that benefits themselves. But you have to wonder, why are they singling him out?"
Theresa Dudley, a Democratic candidate for the Prince George's County Council, said that Young's activity raises questions but that expulsion goes too far.
"They haven't expelled anybody in 200 years, and with all the dirt that's been going on in Annapolis, why do they seek the chair of the [Legislative] Black Caucus to go after?" said Dudley, who is African American. "He was just too big a target."
Dudley hoped Young's experience would serve as a warning to other prominent black officials that "they can sit there and play the games with all these white elected politicians and they can be a part of it, but don't ever forget you can't do what they do."
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a former U.S. representative from Baltimore, said the Senate's action was too extreme. "The more prudent course would have been removal of committee assignments and censure by the Senate," he said in a statement, the Associated Press reported. "The decision to expel [Young] in the absence of a criminal conviction understandably causes some to question the application of a double standard."
Former Maryland senator Clarence M. Mitchell III, a member of a prominent Baltimore family, has been among the organizers of the campaign in support of Young. Mitchell, who served time in prison for state and federal crimes, called Young's expulsion "a political lynching."
He likened Young to other dethroned African American leaders, such as the late representative Adam Clayton Powell and Mayor Marion Barry, and warned that Annapolis has not seen the last of Young. Mitchell said Young's supporters might pursue the matter in court or get the Democratic Central Committee in Baltimore to appoint Young to succeed himself.
"It ain't over till the fat lady sings, and the fat lady is just warming up," Mitchell said.
Staff writer Peter S. Goodman contributed to this article.
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