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Jewish World Review April 30, 1999 /14 Iyar 5759

Larry Elder

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Littleton and
the Brando rule

(JWR) ---- (
MARLON BRANDO, on the "Larry King Live" show, once used several racial and ethnic epithets. When a local news outlet rebroadcast this controversial excerpt, it muted Brando when he used the word "nigger." His lips moved, but the viewer heard no sound. The station did not, however, mute the racial epithets Brando used for Italians, Filipinos, Japanese or Jews.

Call this "The Brando Rule": a condescending, "protective" standard for blacks.

What does this have to do with the horrific tragedy of Littleton, Colo.?

Well, as pundits ask why, most quite properly first point to the parents. Indeed, a recent poll shows that the majority of Americans blame the parents by a large margin over the other usual suspects -- television, video games, movies, easy access to guns and the Internet.

Yet, a disproportionate amount of violent crime takes place in our inner cities. But the media rarely asks, "Where are the parents?" A typical example. A few years ago, in Los Angeles, a juvenile court judge found a 15-year-old responsible for the shooting death of a beloved 82-year-old inner-city grandmother.

The convicted teen had participated in the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl. The girl was then locked in a house, and the assailants attempted to set it on fire. A neighbor confronted the suspects, one of whom pulled out a gun. The man dashed in his house, but his grandmother came out just in time to take a bullet in the neck. She died in the emergency room.

Read the newspaper clippings of the shooting and subsequent court proceedings. One article began, "As his mother wept quietly in a nearly empty courtroom" ... that's it. Who was the mother? What kind of mother was she? Where was the father? Why didn't he come to court? How could he have bred such a monster?

These are the very questions we ask about Littleton. But why not in urban L.A., where youth-against-youth murder is far more common? Or Washington, D.C.? Or Newark? Or Atlanta? Or Detroit?

Remember Sherrice Iverson, the little black girl sexually assaulted and killed in that Nevada casino? This happened around 4 a.m., while the girl's father nonchalantly gambled, even though security advised him several times that they had found his daughter running around unsupervised. Sherrice was sexually assaulted and murdered. But when some raised questions about the father's possible negligent supervision, the Nevada NAACP called such suggestions racist. And that was that.

Los Angeles County averages about 2,000 murders a year, nearly half minority gang-related. But, as a nation, do we question the quality of inner-city parenting? Do we flash anger at the frequency with which today's teens have children they cannot feed, clothe or educate? Have we examined the quality of parenting of the black youths who raped and brutalized the Central Park jogger?

We have a double standard. We hold middle-class, suburban kids' parents responsible for their children's deviant, criminal behavior. We do not seem to do the same thing with inner-city parents, a small percentage of whose kids have gone bad. The failure to apply the same standard, mind you, is not racism. It is condescension.

A recent article in U.S. News & World Report compared two impoverished areas outside of Boston -- South Boston, predominantly white, vs. Roxbury, predominantly black. Both have high levels of unemployment, approximately the same percentage of children born to single-parent households and roughly the same number of people living in public housing. But the violent crime rate in Roxbury is four times higher than that of South Boston. What explains the discrepancy? Well, we know that poverty and single-parent status do not. This sort of leaves values, doesn't it?

The mostly liberal media thinks it's doing blacks and other inner-city residents a favor by pointing the finger at others. When a crime goes down and an innocent gets killed, the media blames Reaganomics, unemployment, poverty, language barriers, lack of job skills, lack of parenting skills, lack of transportation, too much TV, and easy access of handguns and drugs. But, as Littleton shows, kids can get guns anywhere. Drugs, too. And white youths buy more hip-hop and gangsta rap than do black kids.

What does that leave? The parents. Just as in Littleton. Let's be consistent. The No. 1 reason for bad kids is bad parenting. Good parenting does not, of course, guarantee good kids. But to accept bad behavior from poorer persons of color, while expecting good behavior from others, is elitist, condescending and damaging. Being a parent is tough duty. It is a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year job. For adults only. If you wish to read Littleton as a wake-up call for parents, fine. But make it a wake-up call for all parents. Whether you live on Park Avenue or Skid Row. Or in East Los Angeles.

Or Littleton.

JWR contributor Larry Elder reads all of his mail. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate