A friend of mine had just bought a dress at Landover Mall a few nights ago and was getting into her car when she was attacked. A man punched her in the mouth, knocking her teeth through her palate. When she crawled out of the passenger side door, he kicked her in the head. Then he took her money and wedding ring and escaped in her car.

And here are the latest police artist renderings of two rat-faced suspects in a string of violent assaults against black women in Washington. What is to be done with these men if they are caught? Send them to a prison where they can boast about their exploits with incarcerated friends from their old neighborhoods?

In the first six months of this year, there have been 128 reported forcible rapes in the District, compared with 77 reported in the same period in 1989. D.C. police Capt. Wyndell C. Watkins, commander of the sex offense branch, attributes the increase in assaults to an increase in drug use, saying it forces women addicts to expose themselves to abuse.

But nationwide, more than 600,000 black women are brutally assaulted each year -- many of them raped and killed. The overwhelming majority of these women are neither addicts nor involved in any criminal activity. More than 50,000 of them are helpless grandmothers, according to the FBI.

As for the perpetrators, they are usually black men.

"You've got some sick people out there," Watkins said. But these attacks go beyond sick. They are sinister.

A 30-year-old woman, six months pregnant, is beaten so severely on the face and head that doctors can't even assess the extent of her injuries. She has been virtually blinded, and, after performing tests, doctors learn that she has been raped.

The cousin of D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. is standing in a parking lot, hours after testifying before a grand jury about an earlier assault, when she is shot to death. A mother of six children, she had just testified about being kidnapped, stabbed, shot and left for dead a month earlier.

Now, I know that the American economic and criminal justice systems are stacked against black men, especially those who are poor. But mistreatment by the system cannot be allowed to serve as an excuse for heinous black-on-black crime.

Lame excuses are exactly what the criminal mind feeds upon to justify the unjustifiable. Take, for example, the case of the man who was convicted of murdering a pizza deliveryman in Prince George's County a few weeks ago.

He wasn't trying to shoot the man, the assailant claimed. He was just pointing his gun at him when it accidentally discharged. A similar excuse was offered by one of the New York thugs arrested in the stabbing death of a man from Utah as he came to the defense of his mother.

The assailant wasn't trying to stab the man, he claimed. The man just bumped into his knife.

Here were men who should not have been carrying weapons in the first place, to say nothing of being involved in robberies and assaults. If they hadn't committed the crimes, they wouldn't be faced with the death penalty in one case and long, hard time in the other.

A few months ago, I visited death row at the Mecklenburg State Prison in Virginia to see if my support for the death penalty would wane after meeting condemned men face to face.

One of the inmates was Tony MacKall, a native of Southeast Washington, whom I described as humbled, soft-spoken and spiritually inclined.

"It seems that we have a mutual acquaintance," came a letter from Michael Keating, who is an assistant managing editor of the Washington Times. "We've also known him for a comparable length of time -- about 15 minutes."

Keating's letter went on to say that his impression of MacKall had been quite different from mine.

"In the time I knew Tony MacKall, he robbed me of my money, valuables and car," Keating wrote. "Then he put a gun to the back of my head to murder me execution-style. When the first shot from the .32-caliber gun failed to kill me, he ordered me to get up. He fired again into my face . . . . A half-hour earlier he fired a bullet from the same gun into Mary Dahn's head, killing her as her husband and two young daughters stood nearby."

MacKall is black. His victims were white. As is generally acknowledged, blacks tend to pay with their lives for murdering whites.

But I can't say that I would mind at all if the same fate would befall those who terrorize blacks.