Quickly, now: Who is Harold Brown -- the plumber, not the former defense secretary?
Next question: Who is Bernhard Goetz?
Don't feel bad if you scored only 50 percent. Your friends won't do any better.
Goetz, of course, is the 37-year-old electronics specialist who shot four youths he said were about to mug him on a New York subway train. Three of the youths are recovering from their wounds. Prospects for the fourth, 19-year-old Darrell Cabey, are grim.
Harold Brown (is it coming back to you?) is the 68- year-old Chicago plumber who killed one of two armed youths who tried to take his groceries.
Why is it that we know Goetz's name and not Brown's? Publicity, to be sure. The Post and The New York Times ran (as far as I could find) three stories each on the Chicago case, including one that said police were urging the then-unidentified man to turn himself in. Goetz has been daily fare in newspapers across the land.
But why so much publicity? No doubt the fact that Goetz shot four people rather than just one has something to do with it. There is also the fact that Brown's act seemed more obviously a matter of self-defense. He told police one of the youths had a knife and the other, the one who was fatally shot, "put a gun in my ear." Goetz's mugging, on the other hand, was more surmise than explicit robbery. "You got five dollars?" might conceivably have been a panhandler's request, though nobody really believes that.
There are other differences: Brown was an older, ostensibly more vulnerable, man than Goetz; the Goetz affair happened first, leaving the Chicago affair as "the other case."
But is it really possible to believe that race has nothing to do with the relative fame of Brown and Goetz? If the Chicagoan had been white, can you doubt that his slaying of a black teen-ager would have been perceived, in some quarters, at least, as a part of some vicious pattern, his name ticked off at rallies across the country? If Goetz had been black, or his victims white, would the fear that apparently motivated him have served as forcefully as a proxy for the fear that Americans increasingly feel in the big cities?
I don't know. I'm sure that it would not have occurred to the black leadership of New York City to demand a federal investigation to see whether the civil rights of the four subway victims had been violated if the man charged with shooting them had been black. And I do remember how quickly black interest in the Atlanta killings of a few years ago evaporated after a black man was convicted of them.
It says something about the state of race relations in America that even in matters that, on the surface, should trigger common effort (fear of street crime, for instance), race colors our attitudes.
It isn't even a matter of different perceptions of right and wrong. There's hardly anyone who doesn't harbor mixed feelings about the recent shootings. But the two incidents, and our reactions to them, are reminders that, not only in public safety but also in public attitudes, we've still got a long way to go.