So what do we do with the 10-year-old with the gun?
I mean, besides putting his photograph on the front page of the newspaper. What do we do after that? What happens to him?
And while we're on the subject, does anyone know what became of the 8-year-old who was holding dope for a drug dealer on Booth Street in West Baltimore three years ago? Is he still among the junkies? Does he still live on a street safe for no one but the young, hard-bitten drug dealers who give strangers the evil eye? Whatever happened to that kid?
And while we're on the subject, whatever happened to the two 14-year-old boys who were ordered to execute a kid named Daniel Carter? It happened last fall in Druid Hill Park. Does anyone remember, or are all these incidents starting to run together? A drug dealer named Dwayne Brown suspected Carter of stealing drug profits. So the drug dealer ordered the two 14-year-olds -- half his age -- to shoot Daniel Carter. After he was arrested, then transported to the Central District for processing, one of the 14-year-olds wet his pants.
Last fall, some teachers were talking about Chris Alston in the faculty lounge at Johnnycake Middle School in Woodlawn. Chris Alston, after little more than a month of school, had been expelled. He was an angry kid. He started fights almost every day. "He won't live to see 18," one of the teachers had said.
The teacher was right. Chris Alston was dead at 15, victim of a drug deal gone sour in southwest Baltimore. He had been hanging with two older boys, apparently his role models in life. All three were murdered by a guy police described as a drug customer who didn't like the crack he had been sold.
Fifteen years old.
And don't forget the 11-year-old arrested in a drug raid the first Friday of this month. He made the front page, too: Hands behind the back, back to the camera, cops in the foreground holding money and drugs taken off the kid.
The drug dealers -- most of them men between 18 and 25 -- have been infesting the old neighborhoods of Baltimore for years. Now, they've cultivated a new pediatric disease, recruiting kids of ages barely in the double digits. It's sickening, of course -- 10-year-old arrested for possession, 11-year-old arrested for 0` distribution, 10-year-old arrested for armed robbery -- and when these stories get out, you can almost hear the public cringe, from Essex to Ellicott City. But why the surprise?
The drug trade sucked in the 20-something crowd long ago. The teens followed. And soon the little kids were getting into the act. Years ago, when a thug named Timirror Stanfield was running his drug operation in the projects, he paid children a buck a day to hold his guns for him, and he made sure they were always around, just in case he needed a weapon. One day, preparing to confront a rival in the lobby at Murphy Homes, Stanfield snapped his fingers and a gun came out of the gathered crowd, having been passed hand over hand, each of the hands small and soft.
Why the surprise that kids are apparently getting an earlier start in crime? If you thought there was a magic line, some arbitrary cutoff age, under which no kid would grab a gun or slip a bag of crack into his hightops -- in other words, a genuine age of innocence -- then you were having a wishful fantasy. There is no great secret to this. There simply has been nothing to come along on the American scene -- "Just Say No"? -- to smash the trend of young men lining up to join the drug trade. (The 14-year-olds from East Preston Street were making $450 to $600 a week when they were arrested for the Carter murder.) It follows that their little brothers would get the same idea.
The saddest thing is, little changes after these kids are caught. The idea that breaking this tragic cycle is some kind of national priority is utter fiction. We delude ourselves that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to us than this cycle of wasted youth and, winning the one war, we beg off on the other.
Who works with these kids? Who changes how they think? Who steps in after the parents -- make that, in most cases, parent -- have lost or surrendered control? Not the overworked, underpaid social workers the state hires to counsel them. Not cops. Not courts. Not teachers. They've all got their hands full. So it's pure luck if these kids get any real help at all because there is little of that kind of help available in this country today.
And so what do we do with the 10-year-old? We wish him luck.