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Tuesday, August 14, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist

Carrying the weight of race

Even locked behind bars three hours from here, Aaron Slaughter instills a visceral reaction: fear, anger, frustration — and a small measure of pity.

Several former classmates at Shorewood High School said Slaughter, 20, has a brain and a heart. They expected to see him in the papers for anything but wearing brass knuckles at Mardi Gras, or being quoted from a jail cell.

"He was really quiet and nice," said one. "I feel really bad for the situation he's in."

Not many would second that emotion.

Most who called after I visited Slaughter last week blamed him for last spring's Mardi Gras riots and chided him for using race as an excuse.

But God, how they begged me not to use their names. Seattle's ever-escalating racial tension, and the man who has come to personify it, are apparently better addressed without attribution.

We say bad things privately, or not at all. And so it goes.

One reader named Rich spoke for many when he accused me of trying to generate sympathy for Slaughter.

"He's a violent, racist thug," Rich said. "Would you express the same sympathy for Aaron's white counterpart — a white-trash skinhead creep — if the roles were reversed? All thugs who hurt people should be dealt with with equal severity, regardless of 'root causes.' "

One neighbor of Slaughter's said he was disgusted with the self-pity Aaron showed when he complained that neighbors now lock their doors when they see him coming.

"We've done nothing but been good to him and his wonderful mother," said the neighbor, who happened upon my column right after cutting the Slaughters' grass.

"I didn't do it for him, but his mother," the man stipulated. "It wasn't the first time, and Aaron has never once said 'Thank you.' "

But that's not the point.

"The point is that he is trying to use the race card when no one around here has done anything but be good neighbors," the man said. "And he hasn't owned up to what he's done."

A relative of one Mardi Gras victim agreed.

"It's something most people are taught at a young age," she said. "I say to 2- and 3-year-old schoolkids, 'Pick up your coat!' And they learn."

She gave me her family's version of that night in Pioneer Square: After getting money from an ATM, her relative was allegedly attacked by Slaughter. The punch knocked his glasses off. Only as he was being stitched up did he realize he had been hit with brass knuckles.

The woman was incensed that Slaughter blames others.

But then she, perhaps without realizing it, did much the same thing.

"Until the leaders of the black community make their kids take responsibility... ," she said, her anger taking over her words. "It just makes me furious."

And so whether he likes it or not, Aaron Slaughter ends up carrying the weight of race on his imposing frame.

He's Public Enemy No. 1, and we're happy to make him so. Even happier that he's locked up, three hours away. That way, we don't have to think or talk about how he got there. And we don't have to use our names.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334; or at nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. She can't wait for the trial to be over.

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