Well, now. Talk about black-on-black crime.

I'm not referring to the city's exploding homicide total, now at an abysmal 139, by the way. I'm talking about Chaka Fattah's drive-by in the debate Monday night, the underhanded and unseemly shot he took at Michael Nutter in an attempt to undermine his candidacy for mayor.

In a Democratic primary that grows more combative by the day (white candidates pounding each other in this corner, black hopefuls trying to knock each other out in that corner), the floundering Fattah has the surging Nutter squarely in his cross hairs - and is taking direct aim.

Not racial profiling

Defending charges from opponents that his proposal to stop and frisk those suspected of carrying illegal weapons was a racist tactic, Nutter insisted his plan wasn't about race. "It's about criminals. As a person who's been black for 49 years, I think I know a little about racial profiling."

Though the subject then changed, Fattah was ready and loaded when he got his chance to speak, chiding Nutter, "I'm sorry the councilman has to remind himself he's an African American."

Say what?

Did Fattah really go Milton Street on us, so transparently trying to portray Nutter as not black enough?

No wonder the audience gasped.

It's one thing for the ludicrous Milton Street to sling "Watermelon Man" slurs, but for a seven-term U.S. congressman to stoop so low is astoundingly stupid. Fattah ought to be ashamed of himself.

You could almost see this coming. For the past few weeks, Fattah has been inching up to this, target practicing here and there, accusing Nutter of not caring about the poor and the city's neighborhoods, but making little headway.

At this point, civility may be too much to ask for. With less than a week to go, this campaign has quickly deteriorated into napless nursery school, with the kids all cranky and whining. You've got Bob Brady and Tom Knox threatening to kick each other's butts on TV, Fattah race-slinging at Nutter, and the cellar-dwelling Dwight Evans taking on all comers.

That's politics at crunch time, especially when you've got an electorate that is almost 27 percent undecided. The only surprising thing has been that it has taken this long for the gloves to come off.

"Nutter is the perceived front-runner, so Chaka is going after him for the undecided black votes. It's the same reason Brady is going after Knox, because Knox is Brady's competition for white votes," Thad Mathis, Temple professor of social administration tells me.

Still, Fattah's uncharacteristic race-baiting and backstabbing for black votes is a new low.

Makes you wonder why Fattah has enlisted presidential hopeful Barack Obama - no stranger to "black enough" accusations - to help him raise funds.

Speaking up

Nutter may look like a geek and appeal to white liberals, but so far he's the only black leader to call the uncontrolled killing in the city exactly what it is.

After an especially bloody April weekend that ended with 10 slayings, Nutter called the carnage "one of the worst human tragedies the city has ever seen. The bell should be tolling at 12 o'clock," he said, "for the black genocide that has been taking place in this city."

That's right. Black genocide. Because that's what it is.

No other black leader - not Mayor Street, not Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, and, no, not even U.S. Rep. Fattah - has had the courage to speak the truth. It took a strong black man in the form of the wonkish Nutter to use such a call-to-action term to describe an epidemic that threatens to take out a generation of African American men.

Cynical observers might say he ratcheted up the rhetoric to attract some of the black vote, but it sounded to me like a black man who cares. Is that black enough?

Fattah's race-baiting antics sounded like a desperate move from a desperate man.

Fattah's next move should be to apologize for insulting the intelligence of black voters. We're better than this.

Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com.