The controversy of White's commuting

December 23, 2010 1:14:08 PM PST
It was a amazingly complicated when it happened in August, 2006, and it's amazingly complicated now that it has ended.

John White, an African American whose teenage son was harassed - sometimes with racial slurs - by other teens, whites, in his family's driveway.

The son had warned his father the group of thugs was on its way to their home to "kill" the boy and attack his family. Mr. White, doing what dads should do, tried to head off the attack, and confronted the gang in his driveway.

What he shouldn't have done is had a gun. He insisted it was for protection, but when one of the kids lunged for Mr. White's gun, it went off, and killed the boy.

That the Whites were black, and the gang was white, added to the tension of this case on Long Island. White was convicted, and sentenced from 2 to 4 years in prison. He started serving the term last July; but tonight he's out - commuted by outgoing New York Gov. David Paterson.

Reaction is predictable, and symbolic of how this tragic case has played out. The gun didn't solve anything; in fact, it made the situation worse. What Mr. White should have been armed with was a phone, to call the cops.

The jury agreed with that. But it's hard not to understand White's gut reaction to protect his son and his family. And it's despicable that these other boys, including the victim whose family still grieves, had it in their minds to hate and taunt a schoolmate and his family.

One slice of controversy to all this: Gov. Paterson did not inform the victim's family that he was commuting White's sentence. The Suffolk County D.A. says that should have been done.

We're covering the story, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, once again producers of Broadway's most expensive show ever - "Spider Man - Turn Off The Dark" - are promising that the curtain will rise again on their ambitious but dangerous show. The fourth accident victim is still in serious condition, but federal and local safety officials have been meeting with producers to try to make sure the accidents come to an end. We'll see. We're at the Foxwoods Theater tonight at 11.

We're also at the airports, as the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission cracks down on those illegal livery cab drivers who obnoxiously hustle passengers at the airports. So far they've busted 16 drivers and seized 43 vehicles.

I've toned down my "mayor-in-the-streets" attitude in recent years. I would regularly stop people who spit in the street, tell them my children walk here, as do I, and I don't want to track their spittle into my house. After I got in a few verbal scrapes, I concluded the confrontations weren't worth the risk. I still, however, give spitting offenders the hairy eyeball, stopping to stare at their deposits, and making sure they see me stop. But I no longer verbally confront them.

I say this because I have not given up the fight with these hustling livery drivers. When they approach me at the airport - and they're a little like drug dealers with their "psst, hey, wanna ride?" - I become incredulous and demand to know if they're aware that what they're doing is against the law.

I feel better afterwards. They usually just shrug and move on to the next potential sucker.

And I use the word sucker because anyone who gets lured into this trap ends up paying. The brother of a friend of mine ended up paying more than $250 for a ride from JFK into Manhattan when he unknowingly (and stupidly) accepted a ride with these con artists. The driver even gave him a receipt, with the car company's name and vitals on it. I called the company; the manager said she had no record of that ride, and that batch of receipts was likely pilfered from the office.

Charming.

Anyway - good for the City that it's cracking down. My only suggestion: Why wait for the holidays? This should be a year-round crackdown.

I'm just sayin'.

We're also looking into those newly released Nixon-era Watergate documents from the FBI. The local headlines will scream that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died last summer, was the focus of the special prosecutor's "extreme interest." Steinbrenner, in fact, eventually pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to Pres. Nixon's re-election campaign, and was fined $15,000.

But the story that's more fascinating than Steinbrenner's - at least to me - is the one involving long-time reporter Daniel Schorr, the CBS correspondent and then NPR commentator. Schorr died 10 days after Steinbrenner in July, and the two men couldn't have been more different. While Steinbrenner was making illegal contributions to Pres. Nixon, Schorr was uncovering wrongdoing by Mr. Nixon. Steinbrenner was on Nixon's lucrative donor list, Schorr was on Nixon's infamous Enemies List.

In fact, the White House so hated Schorr that it ordered the FBI to conduct a background check on him, while he was a reporter for CBS News. According to the FBI files released today, the people interviewed - and we're talking heavyweights of the time like Howard K. Smith of ABC News, and Richard Salant, the President of CBS News - spoke only highly of Schorr. They told of his ethics and his incredible work ethic and his ability to dig, dig, dig, and expose corruption and wrongdoing.

The White House, so secretive about its intentions, told the FBI that it was considering Schorr for some type of governmental job, and that's why it needed a background check. As word spread about the FBI's inquiry - and about the White House's improbable desire to hire Schorr as anything other than a firing squad target - the White House ordered the background check ended.

What a story!

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast (will we get a storm on Sunday?) and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join us, tonight at 11.

One other note: I'm off tomorrow, so this column will resume on Monday. Happy holiday.

BILL RITTER

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