Aching for response from 'Frankenstein'

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

May 21, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Somebody had left a copy of last week's newspaper on the bar.

"Did you see this?" asked my friend, Will B. Humble, speaking quietly.

"Yeah," I said.

On the front page, there was a story about a 2-year-old East Baltimore girl who had been hit in the face by a stray bullet while sitting on her front steps.

It happened about 3 p.m. May 12, apparently during a shootout among drug dealers. Witnesses told police that a man had been running down the block, firing at a fleeing group of four or five other men. Police found spent 9mm casings up and down the street.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened.

Last year, a 6-year-old girl was struck in the head and killed when two alleged drug dealers got into a shootout in West Baltimore. A 3-year-old and her father were caught in the cross-fire of a shootout in Walbrook Junction and killed. A stray bullet went through an open window in Chicago and killed a little boy there. A stray bullet shattered a window of a moving car in Washington and killed a woman.

The bullet that struck the Baltimore girl last week had traveled the length of the block and lost a lot of its force, and she was seriously injured.

This kind of wanton, senseless, Dodge City violence is getting sickening.

Humble and I sat in silence, thinking about the violence.

"I hate to say this," said Humble after a while, "but I don't think these things are going to stop until people pull the Frankenstein Monster Routine on these guys."

"Yeah," I said sadly.

Then, after I had thought about it: "What kind of routine?"

"The Frankenstein Monster Routine," said Humble.

"That's where you have a whole bunch of enraged citizens, armed with pitchforks and torches, chasing these hoodlums down the streets like they were going to tear them limb from limb. That's where you have the villagers rising up and saying, 'We aren't going to take it anymore!'

"Like in the movie," said Humble. "Like in 'Frankenstein' where you have the monster holed up and quivering in the castle with the mob raging outside. That kind of sheer, uncontrolled outrage and anger on the part of people in the neighborhood is the only kind of thing that will put an end to this madness."

The idea is seductive.

I could picture a swaggering drug dealer turning tail and fleeing for his life, a howling lynch mob behind him.

I could picture the dealer's eyes, wide as saucers with the absolute shock of it all, as he pounded down the street, his mouth open wide in a silent scream, as if he had never dreamed people would object to his firing off guns where young children were around.

In the East Baltimore shooting last week, witnesses saw the alleged gunman run into a nearby home and reported that fact to police.

Suppose, however, they had made like the villagers in the movie "Frankenstein," surrounded the house bellowing in blind fury, rushed in and dragged him out. What's an appropriate fate for a guy who shoots a 2-year-old girl -- even by accident, especially by accident?

"But that's just fantasy," I said to Humble. "Remember, Frankenstein didn't pack a gun. People would be crazy to charge an armed drug dealer."

"We're talking about a kind of craziness," insisted Humble. "We're talking about people reaching a point where they don't stop to reason, where they feel so outraged and horrified and violated that they don't even stop to think."

"But Humble," I protested weakly, "we can't condone mob justice."

"But," said my normally gentle friend, "we aren't talking about something you can condone or not condone. We're talking about something primal, something totally outside rational discourse. It would be like a riot."

It would be like a riot, yes, but a riot of a very different sort from the one that occurred recently in Los Angeles.

It would be a case of ordinary people getting fed up with the violence and the slaughter of innocents, frustrated, angry, pushed beyond endurance.

It has been said that people felt that way after viewing, again and again, the videotape of white police officers beating up on black motorist Rodney King. It has been said they felt that way when a predominantly white jury failed to convict any of the officers in the case.

Why haven't they felt that way when a drug dealer, with absolutely no regard for the community, suddenly fires off a gun and a child gets hurt?

How many innocent bystanders have to get hurt before people get fed up?

Where's the boiling point?

"It's coming," said Humble. "Unless something drastic happens, we're getting to that point fast."

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