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SENSITIVITY WATCH : Not Funny

September 11, 1993

In American late night television, the passage from tragedy to comedy can be managed in just 24 hours. On Wednesday Uwe-Wilhelm Rakebrand, a German tourist leaving the Miami airport in a rented car with his pregnant wife, was bumped from behind by attackers in a van, bumped again when he refused to stop and finally murdered when the attackers pulled alongside and opened fire. Thursday a late night talk show host turned his death, with his widow presumably still in this country, into a joke. He suggested, with a smirk, that two white racists convicted of attempting to burn a black man to death should be sentenced to leave the Miami airport dressed as German tourists.

This editorial page said nothing initially about the murder, the fourth of a German visitor to Miami since last October. What can be said? All Americans are sickened and frightened at the rising levels of violence in this country and ashamed that we cannot protect even foreign visitors from the killers among us. We did not tell Mrs. Rakebrand or Germany that we were sorry. Surely that didn't need to be said. It could go without saying.

But apparently it cannot go without saying. The German newspapers that rightly put this ghastly slaying on their front pages (as American newspapers did) now have a new story. In the United States, when a German mother-to-be sees her husband die before her eyes, it's time to call in the gag writers. The "comic" in this case may go nameless, but with a vile taste in our mouth, we apologize to her and to her country.

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