Keeping an eye on the bad guys

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

March 12, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Questions, comments and snide remarks for a Tuesday:

Area police believe there may be an organized gang of bandits responsible for many of the armed robberies that have hit banks, groceries and fast-food places in the city and in Baltimore County these past few months.

Police have made a couple of arrests -- including that of Sadiyq Abdullah Muhammed, 19, who was nabbed Saturday in Virginia -- but they do not believe they have captured any of the ringleaders.

So this is where we've got to be careful.

The temptation is to talk about "criminal masterminds" who have pulled off dozens of "daring daylight robberies." The temptation, in other words, is to call upon all of the glamorous criminal images we see so often on television and in the movies.

But we really don't want these guys to look cool, or hip, or more clever than us poor grunts who try to make ends meet on an honest wage, because they aren't. It takes a lot more courage to get dressed each day and drag yourself to work than it does to bop into a grocery store with a gun.

Working for a living just isn't photogenic enough for the movies.

Already police believe the success of the core group of bandits has inspired a spate of copycat robberies by one or more copycat gangs.

Just last week, police trapped a suspect in a Towson credit union office after his colleagues had fled with the loot. Area police believe there are enough similarities in that incident to link it with the rash of robberies.

During a brief standoff, the man in the credit union incident reportedly boasted to his hostages that he was a member of the notorious "shotgun gang on TV." He babbled a bunch of pseudopolitical stuff and vowed that for every gang member arrested a new member would be recruited to take his place.

So, it has already started. Whenever the bad guys start talking like characters in a B-movie, the real world is in trouble.

*

Then we've got to deal with the chilling videotaped images of a gang of Los Angeles police officers kicking and beating an unarmed citizen they had stopped for a traffic violation.

The thought that chills is this: What if a witness hadn't grabbed his video camera? Would we ever have believed the victim's story? Would we even have heard about it?

People complain about police brutality all the time, but rarely is there such clear and compelling evidence. So how often do such things happen?

Above all, do such things happen here?

Last year, the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued the findings of its second annual survey of police brutality in Maryland, finding that the city and Howard County police departments were among the "worst" in the state.

Problem is, the NAACP's report was so shallow, its allegations so poorly documented, that its findings had virtually no impact. Members of the NAACP may bristle at this kind of criticism, but in fact, I take their mission seriously, even if they don't.

A great deal of mistrust still exists between minorities and the police. That mistrust is fueled by graphic instances such as what happened in Los Angeles, Miami, and even here, and by the apparent failure of police officials, politicians and even the press to confront the situation.

But a serious problem demands serious study. And if the NAACP

doesn't produce a credible document, who will?

*

Finally, state corrections officials have had to cancel bereavement leave for prison inmates because they don't have the money to pay for escorts.

This, of course, is a tough break for inmates, and some people aren't happy about the decision. Times are tough and money is tight all over.

But wouldn't it be nice if the word got around in Maryland's criminal underworld that from now on the price of committing a crime could be that you won't be there if a loved one dies?

Wouldn't it be nice if criminals, a notoriously sensitive lot, were so shocked by this policy that they turned straight? People turn to crime in part because of circumstances and peer pressure, but, ultimately, crime is a matter of individual choice and individual responsibility. Criminals choose to be criminals.

So what does it take to make them choose otherwise? Wouldn't it be nice if the state has just stumbled on the answer, if the crime rate plummets, if street violence disappears?

Hey, we can dream, can't we?

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