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Army Sexual Misconduct Case Prompts Racism Accusations

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The investigations into sexual misconduct in the Army have taken an unexpected turn over a second anguishing issue: race.

Black leaders in Maryland are objecting that all 13 men facing charges in the scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground are black, while the great majority of their accusers are white women. And they contend that black men also have been disproportionately accused in the Army cases pending elsewhere around the United States, although no official racial breakdowns are available to corroborate this.

The highest-profile sexual misconduct case, concerning Army Sgt. Maj. Gene C. McKinney - the most senior enlisted man in the service - does involve a white woman's accusations against a black man.

"This raises the old images of black men and white women that we just don't need in this day and age," said Janice E. Grant, of the Harford County, Md., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who has called for a civilian probe into the matter. "The numbers here just don't add up."

The allegations of racism are likely to further complicate the Army's efforts to resolve the sexual harassment investigations in a way that is politically, as well as legally, satisfactory. Top Army officials have vowed to make every effort to show that the institution has "zero tolerance" for misconduct against women, who now make up 20 percent of recruits.

The race issue is likely to be raised in some of the specific Aberdeen cases, say Army sources. Some of the men accused of sexual misconduct there believe the Army has overlooked similar infractions by white men.

Army officials Monday denied all suggestions that their actions were influenced by race. They said the charges against the accused were based on the Army's interviews with nearly 1,000 women stationed at Aberdeen, as well as the allegations of other women who telephoned an Army hotline set up to handle complaints of sexual misconduct in the service.

Although a large share of the Army's noncommissioned officers are black, and while the Aberdeen ordnance school has a particularly large share of black NCOs, the fact that all the accused men at Aberdeen are black does appear to be disproportionate.

About 30 percent of enlisted soldiers, and more than one-third of sergeants, are black. At the Aberdeen school, where soldiers learn to handle munitions, heavy trucks and other gear, more than half the drill instructors and faculty members are minorities, the Army said.

Army officials said while most of the accusers are white, that mirrored the racial breakdown of soldiers at the school: Trainees are about 58 percent white, 30 percent black, and 12 percent Hispanic and "other," officials said.

The only Aberdeen accuser who has gone public, former private Jessica Beckley, is white.

In addition to the 13 men who have been formally accused at Aberdeen, seven more currently are under investigation. NAACP officials say none of these men is white; Army officials declined comment.

The Army said it was unable to provide a racial breakdown of the accused at other bases where a number of sexual harassment allegations have surfaced, including Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Officials did say that at Fort Leonard Wood, two sergeants have been jailed for sexual misconduct and a third has been acquitted of charges. One of the jailed sergeants was white and the second Hispanic. The acquitted man was black, officials said.

Leroy Warren Jr., an NAACP national board member said the group "isn't in the business of protecting people who have committed crimes." But he said the authorities "aren't getting the white guys. There's a dual system of justice at the Pentagon and in this country."