Making excuses for the gunners

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

July 16, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

"This neighborhood has become like a war zone," says the woman on North Collington Avenue. "No, it is worse than a war zone. Nobody is safe here."

Collington Avenue is where 2-year-old Michael Gordon was wounded by a stray bullet during a Wild West-, Al Capone-, Johnny Rambo-style shootout last week.

Witnesses told police that one man stood in a doorway in the 800 block of N. Collington Ave. about 8.30 p.m. and opened fire on a group of men standing on the street.

While people screamed and scrambled for safety, the other men drew their guns and returned fire.

Within a few seconds, according to police, at least 30 shots were fired from at least three guns. The neighborhood was littered with shell casings. Parked cars were perforated with bullets.

And young Michael Gordon, all the way down at the other end of the block, was hit in the left wrist as his mother tried to hustle him to safety. He became the 18th city youngster hit by gunfire this year. Two of those children -- Andre Antonio Dorsey, 3, and Antwan Stewart, 13 -- died.

"It makes no sense," says the woman on Collington Avenue. "I blame drugs and I blame guns. These young hoodlums these days don't respect anyone. They'll just keep killing each other and they don't care who gets hurt."

The woman tells me that a third of the young men in this neighborhood carry guns -- either for protection or because they are involved in the drug trade.

"You know people who carry guns?" I ask in a surprised tone.

"Of course!" she exclaims.

"Did you turn them over to police?" I ask.

"No," she replies firmly and proceeds to justify her silence with arguments so specious that I am withholding her name to protect her identity.

She says, for instance, that she understood why young men carry guns, since they might be required to defend themselves at any moment. She argues that young men cannot be blamed for their behavior, anyway, since they are victims of the hopelessness and anger that smother their dreams. She notes that the young men in East Baltimore do not manufacture handguns, nor do they have the resources to import narcotics from Asia and Central America. The true villains, she says, are the multinational conglomerates that push guns and drugs onto East Baltimore streets.

"And young Michael Gordon?" I put in after a while.

"Yes," says the woman, "it is a tragedy about that little boy. Somebody's got to do something."

For all of the shock and horror and dismay being expressed in this city over the endless violence on our streets -- the slaughter of innocents, the leeching of life -- most people in the affected communities have not taken even the most fundamental steps to stop the killing.

Somewhere, some people are being awfully tolerant of handguns in their midst. Their friends, relatives or lovers are walking around with guns in their pockets and they let them do it. They don't make them get rid of the guns. They don't call police. They do make excuses.

Substance-abuse counselors would call these people "facilitators."

After the gunfight on Collington Avenue, Eastern District police went from door to door, begging people to report illegal weapons. They handed out posters that said, succinctly, "The gun you see today might be used tonight, maybe against a loved one."

The good news is that police found residents there very concerned about the violence.

"Everybody wanted a poster. We couldn't get rid of them fast enough," says Capt. Gary D'Addario. "We were pleading with people. We were saying, 'Please call us. You live here.' People were very receptive, very concerned."

In fact, the next day, the Eastern District station did get two calls and a letter. That information led to an arrest and the confiscation of two handguns. A police spokesman reported that the department also received 10 reports of people with handguns from concerned citizens in the city over the weekend.

The bad news, though, is that three reports, or even 13 reports, represent such a small percentage of the suspected guns in Baltimore that they have no significance.

Sure enough, Tuesday night, flying bullets from a wild gunfight between two gangs of youths in West Baltimore's 500 block of Presstman St. took the life of 15-year-old Adrian Edmonds. The young woman was cradling her 15-month-old son at the time.

There can be no excuses. Anyone with a gun is a potential baby killer. Anyone who tolerates the condition -- a facilitator -- is little better.

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