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Dead Ringer

By Kathy Y. Wilson · February 28th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide
On the eve of Tony Ringer's trial for two counts of aggravated murder, visions of O.J. Simpson are dancing through my head. It's laughable, spooky and democratic that Simpson is free not only to walk the streets but also to emcee concerts. It's laughable because, well, it is.

You're thinking it's laughable because Simpson should be in prison for a certain murder. I'm laughing because the man has never closely aligned himself with Negroes to the extent that anyone would expect to see him -- guilty, innocent or acquitted -- emceeing a Hip Hop show.

How black of him.

The Juice emceeing concerts? Yep, on Saturday. That's when rappers Juvenile and Foxy Brown won't be giving a damn about gloves, Bruno Magli loafers and the whole nine. Some genius promoter or manager hooked Simpson up with the concert, stealing him from his tireless efforts to find his ex-wife's real killer.

What's all this got to do with Ringer, the celebrity barber accused of shooting his pregnant ex-girlfriend Cassandra Betts in the head while her then-7-year-old daughter slept in the backseat of the car?

It's about two smug black men. It's about loyalties realized, dashed and then regurgitated. It's heinous crimes against women.

They're both tales of troubled relationships fraught with land mines that, when exploded, send battered women inexplicably back to the abuser.

We've seen the pictures of Nicole, beaten and swollen. There were times that she returned to Simpson or at least left the door ajar.

We've read accounts of how Cassandra, two months before her murder, applied for and received a restraining order against Ringer. The document details accounts of Ringer repeatedly kicking Cassandra, throwing her over a banister and down concrete steps.

She recounted how, as in previous breakups with Ringer, he'd call, come over and even show up at her job.

Cassandra later dropped the order. In 1998, Ringer leveled domestic violence charges against her only to bail her out of jail.

What a tangled web.

Other similarities between Ringer and Simpson are more startling, more culturally specific and much more telling of how black folks deny the worst of who we are. When Simpson was acquitted of slaughtering his ex-wife and her companion, black folks weren't so much convinced of his innocence as we were glad a black man had finally gotten off for something.

Forget that many of us believed (and still do believe) in his guilt. Here was one that got away.

That conversation ultimately collapsed beneath the weight of America's perpetually shabby race relations. To mention 'the verdict' today is to uncork a can of squirming intra-racial worms.

Remember in late December 2000, when Ringer was first arrested and jailed for Cassandra's murder? A chorus of righteous Negroes rose up in support of Ringer, even posting his bail. Some big-money, mysterious Bengals player helped post his initial $500,000 bond. As more evidence was uncovered -- bond was doubled after a second manslaughter charge was added -- Ringer was painted with the brush of the sinister murder suspect.

Suddenly, Ringer's supporters became mute, pulling their money with him left to sit in jail.

When fingers were pointed squarely at Simpson, many were dumbstruck, too, that a hero could be capable of such rage. But that's where we're wrong.

Black folks like our heroes as much as anyone. Real heroes rarely ask for the designation, however, and the ones who walk around wearing it usually have dressed themselves in it.

When we thrust these tags on people without giving them the benefit of humanity and all its fallacies, we're setting everyone up for disappointment and even culture shock. The truth is, if you love and support a black man on trial for his life, its OK to do so. But do it with the full knowledge of all his flaws and with the understanding that there's a possibility the man whom you love and support might be capable of killing a woman.

He might even be capable of killing her knowing she's pregnant. That's chilling. It's possible. It might be the truth.

Ringer is allowed due process of the criminal justice system just as Simpson enjoyed it, albeit with less fanfare and without the sheen of celebrity. Ringer isn't an athlete. He just gave them haircuts and shaves.

There's a harsh lesson to be learned from O.J. Simpson emceeing a Hip Hop show: Life leaves us surreal, 3-D reminders of what can happen when justice is abandoned in the name of reparations.

A jury of Simpson's peers (that's a good one) said it wasn't (quite) him. I hope Ringer gets a jury of people unlike himself -- reasonable people unafraid to hear the truth and fearless when it comes time to telling the truth.

We've got enough guilty people walking the streets. The last thing we need is Ringer emceeing a Hip Hop show.

Although I hear the circus is in town.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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