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Stupidity is black and white

It's important to understand what the recent defacing of the sculpture honoring Joe Louis says about the current state of race relations in Detroit (in particular) and the United States (in general): Nothing.

It is critical to spend a moment reflecting upon what the purported actions of two white men have to say about Louis' place in the city's and the nation's history, and how he is perceived today: Nothing.

You want an intelligent, open discussion of black-on-white crime, or white-on-black justice, or the ability of people to get along in difficult times, or the legacy of a boxer who once stood as America's answer to a wholly different kind of thought-threat, you're in the wrong area.

Nope, this is a story about a couple of idiots (allegedly) who did something moronic (allegedly) and then tried desperately to make the cops think it was a positive message (allegedly). Don't confuse it with any serious conversation about the issues of the day.

As Freud himself might say: Sometimes an airhead is just an airhead.

The Monument to Joe Louis in Detroit weighs 8,000 pounds, spans 24 feet, begins with an arm and ends in a closed fist. Early Monday morning, the black fist was painted white. Two white men were arrested, found in a truck along with sheets soaked by white paint, with white paint splattered on their clothes and faces, with white paint smudged on a digital camera found in the glove compartment.

The week before, two police officers, both of whom were white, had been killed in the line of duty. A man, who was black, was arrested in connection with the case. Photos of the slain officers were found at the base of the Monument and the fist had been whitewashed. Upon being questioned about the painted fist, one of the white suspects told police, "We did it to support you guys. You should know what that means."

Pretty sure we've got the answer here: Nothing.

Sometimes there is no larger picture. Sometimes an athlete gets popped for driving under the influence, which doesn't mean an entire locker room is full of substance-abusers. Sometimes a coach blows his stack and throws a childlike tantrum, which does not mean all coaches are hopeless little kids or even that the particular coach in question is beyond repair.

In regards to something as enormous and complex as racial strife, forget about it. Although the arrested person accused of the police slayings is black, no racial motive in the case has been suggested by anyone close to it.

The two white officers were mourned in a joint ceremony conducted in one of Detroit's most prominent black churches, and even the significance of that was minimized during the service by a Catholic priest who said, "These officers were miles beyond that question -- and that question is the problem."

Get Joe Louis out of this discussion, and now.

The Louis monument isn't a wholly surprising target of small-minded hate. With its closed (or clenched) fist, it has been described by some as an assertion of black power and by others as an emblem of the racial violence that gripped Detroit during the mid-1980s, when the monument was commissioned.

But Joe Louis himself? Now there's an irony: It was Louis, after all, who once struck a blow -- both real and symbolic -- for America in its conflict with one of history's most notable twisted minds.

It was in June of 1938 that Louis knocked out Germany's Max Schmeling to win the world's heavyweight boxing title. It was a classic boxing moment, a first-round KO, maybe the finest pressure performance of Louis's fabulous career, against a fighter to whom Louis had lost two years earlier. And, of course, it was the defeat of one of Adolf Hitler's prime Aryan specimens, part of Hitler's attempt to prove the superiority of the race.

Joe Louis was Detroit's son. He still is. This one can't be pinned on Detroit, or America, if only because to do so would be to paint with the same kind of clumsy broad brush that two petty criminals allegedly used on the monument itself.

The larger "context" is hereby dismissed. With prejudice.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com