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Archive for Monday, October 28, 2002

Blacks concerned arrest will be seen in racial terms

October 28, 2002

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— For several weeks, John Morgan kept looking for a white Chevy Astro minivan or a white box truck being driven by a white male who was responsible for a string of sniper-style killings in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

So when police announced they had arrested two black men John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo driving a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice, Morgan, who is black himself, was flabbergasted.

"With everything I had heard on television and what people were saying, everyone assumed they were going to be white men," Morgan, a telecommunications engineer said Sunday before services at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in this Washington suburb.

As the Washington area celebrated the end of the killings, some blacks questioned their own strongly held stereotypes about blacks and the types of crimes they may or may not commit.

Many criminologists, psychologists and sociologists who profile serial killers and other criminals had suggested for weeks that the sniper was likely a white male, probably in his 30s or 40s, who was a loner with a background in the military or weapons training.

Beverly Foster, a 49-year-old black dentist from Arlington, Va., believed them, saying she didn't think blacks "killed like that."

"It just seemed too senseless, too random. It just didn't fit us," she said as she left the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. "I'm not saying that we can't, but with all of the past things that have happened, it just didn't seem like the type of thing we would do."

Black leaders said the arrests prove the fallacy of most stereotypes.

"None of us thought that the sniper was going to be one of us," Rev. John O. Peterson told his Alfred Street congregation. "But this just shows that the devil, he has an affirmative action program."

Stewart Small, a 35-year-old America Online writer-editor from Alexandria, said he, too, was surprised by the arrests.

"Traditionally, murders like this that have been taking place are quote unquote typical of the white male, like Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, Ted Bundy, so I think a lot of us figured that the sniper would fall into that pattern," said Small. "When I found out, I was definitely shocked."

Morgan and Small both said they hoped that Muhammad's arrest won't create more racism for black American males.

"Historically, it seems like if you pardon the pun, one bad apple spoils it for everyone else, and historically, it seems especially true for the black male," Small said.

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