Originally created 05/03/04

Some say killing of white woman sparks different response



SAVANNAH, Ga. -- After the first eight homicides of the year passed with little public comment from city officials, some noted a very different tone when the ninth killing prompted a splashy press conference and a new plan for fighting crime.

Unlike the previous eight victims, the ninth was white.

Some in Savannah's black community have criticized Mayor Otis Johnson for pandering to the white community after the death of Gloria Smith Peloquin, who was killed April 22 during an apparent robbery attempt. No suspects have been identified.

"There was a tremendous amount of outcry on the fact that we had a person who was killed from the white community," said James DeLorme, a past school board candidate, who is black. "None of this was being exhibited when African-Americans were being killed throughout the community."

Alderman Clifton Jones said he's heard criticism about the timing of Johnson's press conference, where the mayor and five aldermen announced initiatives to increase foot patrols, expand programs to reduce the number of repeat offenders and start a crime task force.

Jones, who did not attend last Monday's press conference, said he wasn't particularly impressed by the new crime plan, which he called "generic," but said "that was the way they respond to it just to let people know that they are concerned."

Johnson, who is black, insisted he didn't step up his response because a white woman was killed, but rather because crime overall had increased over last year.

"Three homicides in a week and I'm supposed to sit around? Not this Otis Johnson," he said.

Pam Abraham, whose son, Sean, was killed in February during a robbery attempt at the fast food restaurant he managed, said she supported the new stance on crime and was even surprised to see the mayor attend a vigil for her son.

She added that she understood how Peloquin's death resonated with the whole community.

"I think after that lady was murdered in broad daylight something struck a chord with them," Abraham said.

Former alderman Roy Jackson agreed that Johnson's press conference was an appropriate response to growing public concern.

"You've had several incidents of killing which include the white female. Personally I think it was time for the city to come out and say something," he said.