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Urban Rhythms

For Pete's Sake

By Wiley Hall III | Posted 8/22/2001

My buddy Will B. Humble glanced down at the daily paper--half hidden beneath a bushel of crabs--and let out a loud laugh.

"I see your favorite state legislator is at it again," he said.

I groaned. "Oh, God, who's Delegate Howard P. 'Pete' Rawlings fussing at now?"

"The city state's attorney," Humble chuckled.

"Do I get my $10?"

"Not a chance," Humble said, grinning. "The city state's attorney is black."

Humble maintains that Rawlings has become the official self-appointed designated scold of anything black in Maryland, sort of a critic at-large for people, places, and things of color. So we have a bet. Humble will give me $10 on the day Rawlings delivers a tongue-lashing to something--anything--white. So far, Humble has kept his money.

For example, Rawlings won kudos for his stinging reprimand of the management of the city's school system when Baltimore's black mayor and black superintendent of schools dared to ask for more money. Then he chewed out Prince George's County schools, also blessed (or cursed, depending upon your perspective) by black leadership. He proposed an open-ended, Ken Starr-like audit of Morgan State, a historically black university.

And after Rawlings loudly and publicly questioned the maturity of Lawrence Bell, his candidacy for mayor of Baltimore sank like a stone, although one would have expected Bell to have been a shoo-in since he was the president of the City Council, an early leader in the polls, and the highest-ranking black official in a majority-black city.

Rawlings has condemned students, parents, and teachers in the two jurisdictions in Maryland that are predominantly black. He has not been shy about showing the back of his hand to other black elected officials.

In his latest salvo, Rawlings announced last week that he was "on the verge of being outraged" after city prosecutors were forced to drop murder charges against a defendant because they failed to disclose important evidence to the defense. Apparently, this has been a frequent problem under State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. She's been rebuked in the past by the mayor, the police chief, and by circuit court judges.

Now Rawlings, who as chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee has some distant oversight responsibility, has put his two cents in.

"There's a point where a person like myself is going to have to step forward and say 'Enough is enough,'" the Baltimore Democrat told The Sun. "It's just undermining the efforts of the judiciary, the mayor, and the police to make this a safe city. I think this goes too far."

Rawlings also said he found the prosecutor's management problems "very troubling" and suggested that voters might have to look to someone else when Jessamy runs for re-election next year.

Of course, one might wonder why blacks need an official self-appointed designated scold. Humble, needless to say, has all the answers.

"'Cause folk think blacks have it easy," he drawled. "Nobody criticizes black politicians for fear of being politically incorrect. Nobody ever holds black institutions accountable. The state pumps millions of dollars into black-run school systems like the city's and Prince George's County's, and nobody ever asks if Maryland is getting its money's worth."

"That's ridiculous, Humble," I cried.

"I'm just telling you what folks think," he insisted.

Well, I happen to believe that Humble is being unfair. For one thing, an official self-appointed designated scold seems somewhat superfluous in Maryland, where blacks are routinely chastised, often in the harshest terms. Mayor Martin O'Malley had barely taken office before he was mocking Judge Robert Bell, who, as chief of the Court of Appeals, is head of the state's judiciary. The mayor has spoken of poor Patricia Jessamy using language you rarely hear outside a barroom. Educators in the city and Prince George's are hired and fired at a faster clip than baseball managers.

Anyway, I keep trying to convince Humble that Rawlings has at some time criticized something or someone that wasn't black. And if he hasn't done so yet, I believe he will get around to it some day.

So, Humble and I have kept our antennae up.

One day, for example, Humble heard that Rawlings had harsh words to say about the condiments at a local restaurant.

"Aha!" I cried. "Told you."

But it turned out he had only taken issue with the pepper.

Then we heard that Rawlings had been critical of the coffee at another establishment.

"Surely the coffee had a little cream in it?"

"Sorry," said Humble.

I heard a rumor that Rawlings had lashed out once at residents from the old Soviet Union.

Turns out, though, that he was only mad at those who lived around the Black Sea.

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