February 18, 1997
Mobile's doughty Mayor Dow was quoted in the Mobile Register as saying he "truly believes that the Mardi Gras parades are safe," and setting a fearless example for the folks, attended one himself. (Feb. 1) The comment came in response to reporters' queries about three murders, one gun-shot-wounded person, and a child trampled by a crowd panicked by a gun shot. The Mayor also allowed he was "concerned" about the 10 (at this date 12) homicides already this year. Aside from issue of Mardi-Gras safety, is Mobile itself safe? On February 8, the Mobile Register ran a story on homicides in Mobile in 1996 - there were 51 victims, 25 of whom had their photos plastered on front page of Mobile's daily.
The question that begs an answer from the Mayor is: in just what sense is Mobile a safe place when murder seems to be mushrooming all over town and county. It's safe the way Russian Roulette is safe! Does the Mayor, perhaps, truly believe that the parades are "relatively" safe and that Mobile is "relatively" safe? He dare not admit to that because that raises a scandalous question: relatively safe for whom? And we all know that means "relatively" safe for white folks, especially white folks living in West Mobile. The "proof" is there were only 6 photos of white people in the 25 displayed in the Mobile Register, though that glaring disproportion gives cold comfort to white folks and no comfort at all to black folks. Further "proof" is that of the 51 homicides in 1996, 43 were black and 8 were white. If you throw in Pritchard's 18 and Mobile County's 8, that brings the total to 77, exceeding Baton Rouge's 74.
Clinton Johnson, Mobile City Council President, apparently can offer nothing better than hope; he said: "I hope it's not a pattern of what is to come, It's dreadful. There's too much of it everywhere, and far too much in the black community." Commenting of the Mardi-Gras murders, Police Chief Sam Cochran said: "We can't stop people that have had a beef in the past, but we intercede as rapidly as we can and in a situation like that we could be on the scene in seconds." It's good to know, very reassuring to know, the police are johnny-on- the-spot immediately after someone is killed. A lot of good that does the dead person! Cochran is in hope to; he hopes the high murder rate is just an "anomaly." Maybe the Mayor means Mobile is "relatively" safe in comparison to New Orleans which had 350 homicides last year. Well, okay, but it sure does look like Southerners, good Christians all, like to kill each other and any innocent bystanders who happen to be in the line of fire. Major Tommy Calhoun, head of the Criminal Investigation Division, commenting on the fact that Mobile on average has had only one murder a week, is really upbeat and waxed enthusiastically: "One a week - I guess we're pretty fortunate that in a town this size we don't have more." Yeah, especially given Police Officer Steve Rutledge's observation: "There are lots of guns down here [at the parade cite]. Even the decent citizens have guns to protect themselves. It's a shame it's come to that." (Feb. 1)
All of these men are reasonable men, but none seems to have a clue about what should be done. Boulder, Colorado had one murder last year; it also "has a per- capita income 26 percent higher than Mobile's, and its residents are twice as likely to have a college education." (Mobile Register, Feb. 8) Aren't these stats clues to something significant? But one gets the impression that Mobile's fearless leaders - fearless perhaps because most of them don't live in areas where the killings take place - believe Mobile can afford 50 or 60 murders a year as long as they don't unduly disrupt the wheels of commerce and thus interfere with the fearless leaders' right to make a buck. Perhaps they view these murders as a sort of annual sacrifice, a kind of triage, a system of priorities which favors the strongest over the weakest. This is the way the Swiss thought about the Jewish and gypsy refugees they turned back to the Nazis. The Swiss saw Jewish refugees as a nuisance and as a drag on their economy which was thriving on laundered gold and other goods stolen by the Nazis from these same Jews and others. Their thinking, as far as it went, was held in thrall to the god of business - Mammon.
Thinking this way may be reasonable thinking but it's not good thinking and inevitably such evil reasoning comes back to haunt those who rationalize greed and bigotry in this manner, as it is haunting the Swiss now. Perhaps the haunting of Mobile is yet to come? It's only a matter of time before a player of Russian Roulette clicks on a loaded chamber.
- Tom Brennan