Last May, police arrested a 10-year-old East Baltimore boy after he robbed a younger child of his beanie at gunpoint.
Thursday, the same youth held a .22-caliber revolver against the head of an 8-year-old and took his yo-yo.
The 10-year-old stickup artist reportedly was a tough-talking little mobster, too: "Boy, you just don't know," he growled threateningly when his victim failed to raise his hands fast enough, "get down on your knees."
So now, this is what we are confronted with: two violent crimes in the space of a few months. A child twice armed with a deadly weapon threatening younger children.
And all for childish bounty: An $11 rainbow-colored beanie with a propeller on top in one instance. A $2 yo-yo in the other.
We are left to ponder, as best we can, the implications of these crimes.
Either this child is appallingly evil, completely out of control, so wicked and depraved that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants -- even if it means threatening to kill a playmate for a yo-yo.
Or we now have the most dramatic proof imaginable of the appalling impotence of our community -- a community so weak both spiritually and physically that it cannot disarm and control a 10-year-old.
I vote for the latter -- although both possibilities are terrible to contemplate.
It may well be that this 10-year-old is simply a bad guy: 4 feet 4 inches tall, according to police records. A 50-pound package of terror, a mean and merciless thug who, sources say, answers to the nickname of "Man-Man."
But I suspect that this little boy, this Man-Man, is not an incorrigible villain at all.
I suspect he has the misfortune to be growing up in a crippled community among adults too paralyzed and enfeebled to look after their young.
And which crippled community do I refer to? I refer to East Baltimore, the city, Maryland, society.
Man-Man shames us all.
The first question, obviously, has to do with his adult guardians: What level of nurturing, supervision and discipline are the adults in his life providing? Obviously they are doing something wrong-- so the question is why? Are they bad parents? Are they besieged by problems of their own?
In short, we should have first asked what it would take to empower this child's parents or guardians enough that they would exert the necessary supervision and discipline over this 10-year-old.
But we didn't ask those questions.
We should next have asked how anyone so young could get his hands on a gun, not once, but twice.
After his first arrest, the boy said he found the gun in an alley. Although police confiscated that first weapon, the youngster apparently had no trouble digging up a second one.
Guns in the hands of idiot adults is reason for concern. Guns in the hands of little boys like Man-Man is so serious that the whole city should have come screeching to a halt.
Where are these guns coming from? If he told the truth about finding it in an alley, have city authorities combed East Baltimore's alleyways to ensure that more lethal weapons aren't lying around? If he lied, have we learned the true source of the TTC weapons? Is little Man-Man so tough-tough that nobody in the whole wide city has the weight and authority to get the truth out of him?
But news of a grade-schooler with a gun did not galvanize us to action and a 10-year-old apparently can defy us all.
Finally, we have to wonder about this youngster's values. First, does he understand that there is nothing worth killing for, and second, that there is nothing that money can buy that he can't eventually earn?
In the three months that passed between offenses -- while police shunted him over to Juvenile Services and Juvenile Services shunted him back to his guardians-- did anyone ever take the time to talk to little Man-Man about the value of life?
Not so that we can tell.
It is a pathetic society that cannot supervise, disarm and instruct its young. We are a pathetic society.
Last May, after reading about the first robbery, the California manufacturer of the propeller-topped beanies offered to send both boys a cap. And everyone here sneered. How shallow, we said. How typically shallow.
But did we do even that much?
How shallow. How typically, tragically shallow.