"Shorty" Johnson and "Tree" Caldwell, dripping sweat after a brutal game of one-on-one at Turkey Thicket Playground in Northeast Washington, have their own explanation of why they do not plan to register for the draft later this week."
"Sign up for the draft? S....," said Johnson, spinning the basketball across the tips of his long brown fingers. "The last time I signed up, it was for one of the city's summer jobs. They never called or nothing.
"The only time the government cares about blacks is when they want us to fight a war and die for them. The government don't do nothing for me, why should I do something for them?"
Caldwell, who says he lost a brother and an uncle in Vietnam, said he resents the efforts of what he sees as countless coalitions of middle-class do-gooders to include him on their antiregistration bandwagon.
"I seen all those protesters on TV. Them white folks is walking around with their signs, singing songs and s...., talking about civil rights," he said, his voice rising, straining. "What do they know about civil rights? They got theirs. When the draft comes, it ain't going to be them going to war. The brothers will be dying, not them."
Throughout the city, black youths like Johnson and Caldwell say they either have not or don't plan to take part in draft registration, which was revived last week for the first time since 1975.
Conscious of the legacy of Vietnam, which at one point saw proportionately more blacks than whites die in soggy deltas and overgrown rain forests half a world away and depression-level unemployment among black youths, they are thumbing their noses and asking, in Caldwell's words, "What has the government done for me, man?"
The opposition from blacks appears to be less a product of antidraft sentiment than a form of passive resistance against a government they feel does not include them.
With youth unemployment in Washington, officially at 29 percent (Washington Urban League estimates run closer to 60 percent) and the ongoing debate over whether the city's public schools adequately prepare D.C. youth for the job market, some black community spokesmen say young blacks have reason to resist any effort to make them cooperate with the government.
Aware of these feelings, the Selective Service system has aired commercials and announcements aimed at black youth on both television and radio stations with the hopes of bringing these young men to area post offices to register.
Selective Service officials say it is still too early to tell how well registration is proceeding. But black community workers like Bob King of the 14th Street Project Area Committee, say that many black youths feel that registration is just another "dupe" the federal government has engineered against them.
"One of the things about young folks these days is that they read the paper and watch TV," said King. "The kids on the corner can tell you about the issues, and they feel that a large amount of the people registered will be black. They feel that the government hasn't provided jobs and job training in order to get them to go into the service.
"Crime rates, unemployment and dropout rates are all high within that age bracket. They feel that the government feels that the best way to deal with them is to get them off the streets and into uniform," King said.
Maudine Cooper of the National Urban League said black youths are resisting the draft out of a sense of historical perspective.
"They know about the documented racism in all branches of the service," said Cooper. They know that in Vietnam, disproportionate numbers of blacks were placed on the front lines, and that disproportionate numbers of blacks died as well.
"They've seen or heard about draft resisters like Muhammed Ali and the way they were treated versus the way white college students were treated. They've seen a large number of blacks who came back in terrible mental and physical conditions, and those who came back and couldn't find a job. They are saying 'what are you going to do for me if I have to go fight?'"
And they are seeing the stories that say that the problem with the volunteer Army is that there are too many blacks in there already," Cooper continued. Blacks make up 12 percent of the population, but 30 percent of the Army. "They aren't crazy. They want to find a place in society where they can participate. As it is now, they get to participate overwhelmingly in things that aren't wanted by white society . . . . They don't get to participate in good housing, jobs or country clubs. .They say, 'I know I'll never get there, so why should I go out there and fight?"
"They look at the military and it sounds like the old plantation mentality -- the white generals are there telling them to get out there and fight for us, boy," Cooper said.
Johnson, Caldwell and others across the city say they are not interested in carrying signs or participating in formal demonstrations.
"I ain't into dealing with politics," said Dwight Morgan, hanging out by the Jefferson Junior High School courts on Maine Avenue SW. "The politicans are always going through changes. First they tell you one thing, then they tell you another. When you protest, they tell you sure, we'll do what you want, but then they turn around and (screw) you.
"They tell us it ain't going to be no draft, that they just want us to sign up. Do you believe that?"