Black Like Patrick Kennedy, by Bob Parks

To understand racism in the deep South in the late 1950s, John Howard Griffith – a white man – darkened his skin and pretended to be black. His groundbreaking book, Black Like Me, profoundly affected the burgeoning struggle for equal rights.

In 2006, U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) announced his own desire to be treated like a black man. Kennedy’s goal, however, seems to be political spin.

In the dead of night on May 4, Representative Kennedy almost hit a Capitol Police cruiser with his own car. He then smashed into a cement barrier. Officers on the scene reported Kennedy had red and watery eyes, slurred speech and balance problems. He was only cited for minor traffic violations. He was not given a field sobriety test. The police drove him home, where he further exhibited impaired behavior.

After this made national headlines, Kennedy checked himself into the prestigious Mayo Clinic for treatment for drug dependency. Out of rehab, back on the political circuit and facing accusations he received preferential treatment, Kennedy proclaimed he wanted to be treated like a black person in the future.

Kennedy said he wanted “what anyone else would have done to them if they were an African-American in Anacostia… in terms of bookings, in terms of mug shots, fingerprints, whatever they might have me do.”

I’m sick and tired of liberal activists using minority status and the cause of civil rights as a political tool. For example, I bristle when war protestor Cindy Sheehan is compared to Rosa Parks. I also don’t approve of gay marriage proponents or illegal immigration advocates comparing their cause to the civil rights movement.

Representative Kennedy, the son of political royalty, “played the race card” to say he didn’t want preferential treatment. Nonetheless, he still appears to have gotten off with a slap on the wrist – faring much better than that black man from Anacostia he aspired to be probably would under similar circumstances.

I’m not buying this charade. If everything was done fairly, Kennedy would have spent that first night in jail.

Kennedy later admitted getting behind the wheel after taking the sleeping aid Ambien and the anti-nausea drug Phenergan. He acknowledged Ambien’s packaging clearly states: “Do not operate heavy machinery under this drug” and said “any impaired driving is wrong.”

Despite plenty of circumstantial evidence that night, Kennedy didn’t receive a field sobriety test. Blacks, and anyone else for that matter, can be – and are – compelled to submit to sobriety tests under similar conditions.

Kennedy denies drinking alcohol that night, but acknowledged the police had two witnesses contradicting his claim. Unlike most black men, Kennedy had supporters trying to damage the credibility of at least one witness – leaking to the media that she worked for one of Kennedy’s Republican colleagues (and was therefore biased).

The D.C. attorney general’s office spent over a month “reviewing the events of that night.” In the eventual deal, Kennedy pled guilty to driving under the influence while additional charges of reckless driving and not having his license were dropped. The $300 fine and 10-day jail sentence were suspended. He will make court-imposed charitable donations, perform community service and enroll in court-mandated drug treatment.

Failure to abide by the deal could lead to more trouble, but it appears he will avoid ever seeing the inside of a cell – unlike most others, including black men, guilty of DUI.

Representative Kennedy feels vindicated. After his court appearance, he said: “I’ve always said that I wanted to take full responsibility for my actions… I did just that.” In my opinion, what he did was an insult to those incarcerated for DUI violations, as well as victims and their loved ones.

Furthermore, to use concern for minorities – as liberals love to do – to curry sympathy is laughable at best and disingenuous at worst.

Representative Patrick Kennedy may have originally gone into rehab because he felt it was the right thing to do. He may have done it for sympathy. But the primary reason for that and his calls for fair treatment appear to have been spin control, and everything – even race – was employed to save him. For that, he truly deserves to be treated like anyone else.

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Bob Parks is a Navy veteran, single father and national advisory council member of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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