In a courtroom, disturbing smiles as city goes mad

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 22, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

It feels as if the world's going mad now: not just the shooting of city police, not just the routine violence, but the three of them sitting here now, the ones charged with the shooting of Officer Jimmy Young, all chained at the hands and feet in the front row of this big courtroom on North Avenue yesterday morning. And laughing.

They're here for their bail review hearings, but it's as if they've got some funny little secret they're sharing, some little gag that only they understand. It's cracking them up. They're waiting for Judge Carol Smith to begin outlining the remainder of their lives, and they're as relaxed as tourists.

Here's Sean Little, 21, beefy, whispering something to Vernon Silver, 16, who's wearing a T-shirt ironically reading, "We're All in the Same Game." From Silver's other side, Kevin Green, 23, in short pants, leans in to hear. The three of them chuckle, then look around the courtroom.

Silver, in the middle, turns his body around as far as possible and spots a familiar face in a baseball cap six rows back. The two whisper back and forth for several moments, loud enough that you can hear certain phrases from the man in the cap: "police questioning" is one of them. Silver smiles broadly. The man in the cap smiles back. The two of them shake their heads, and Silver turns to tell Little and Green, who smile, look around the room and exchange more whispers.

The police say Officer Young was shot in the back of the head late Friday morning in the hallway of a high-rise at 127 S. Exeter St., in the Flag House Courts public housing complex in East Baltimore. A day later, on the west side of town, Officer Ira Weiner was shot with his own handgun while answering a call about a disorderly, armed man inside a house on West Mulberry Street. Weiner was pronounced dead shortly after midnight yesterday.

The events are bunched with other events that jangle the nerves: the killing of Pam Basu, dragged from her car in Howard County; an angry confrontation between police and residents at Murphy Homes; and all these children, throughout the year, caught in the cross fire of bullets.

In court yesterday in East Baltimore, a plainclothes policeman said, "There's nothing left to shock us, is there? Children shot in the head? Yeah, we heard that yesterday. Whatcha got that's fresh?"

From his front-row seat, Sean Little glances right, toward a television artist who's sketching him and his co-defendants. He strains his neck for a peek. The TV artist, rushing to get his features on paper, mutters under her breath: "That's it. Don't move."

Little's not going anywhere. Behind him now comes a small parade of women, all chained at the hands and feet, most of them looking dull and disoriented, a couple of them still shivering off a bad night.

It will be several more minutes now before the shooting of Jimmy Young will be considered. Meantime, you listen to little pieces of a civilization coming apart: one woman, homeless, wearing a ring in her nose, brought in for prostitution and battery; another, with pink hair, charged with drug abuse and theft; a couple more with drug problems; a couple more with violent histories -- all of them charged with going beyond the bounds of civilized behavior and none of them particularly denying any charges.

Sitting one row in front of them, Little and Green and Silver seem vaguely amused at the women's predicaments. They're still wearing those damned inexplicable smiles. It's as if their own troubles are some distant dot on the horizon that may never arrive. Except that, moments later, as the nine women are led from the courtroom, here is Judge Smith, and she's calling Sean Little's name. "Yes, ma'am," he says.

She says he's charged with shooting Young in the back of the head, that his co-defendants then ran up, took the officer's gun and money and drugs that he'd confiscated.

"Do you have anything to say?" the judge asks.

Little, slouching, sits up in his seat and leans slightly to his right side, away from the others. "I didn't shoot no police officer," he says. "That's something I did not do."

And maybe he didn't, but maybe it doesn't much matter. Somebody shot Jimmy Young, and a day later somebody shot Ira Weiner, and now there seems a certain inevitability about these things: kids caught in cross fires; women with children dragged from cars; cops taking it in the head.

If it wasn't Little, then it was somebody else. It's as if we're choosing up sides now and lining up in formation: all predators here, all victims over there, destined to meet somewhere along the line.

"No bail," says Judge Smith, "as an issue of public safety."

Little smiles again, but it's slighter this time, and more defensive, a wall to keep anybody from seeing his real feelings. Then the smile goes away as his co-defendants each are given bail of $200,000. "I really ain't got nothing to say," declares Silver.

"I feel my bail should be reduced," says Green. "I didn't rob the officer of nothing. I had just got to the scene."

And maybe he did, but maybe it doesn't much matter. Somebody got to Jimmy Young, who fights for his life now in a hospital room, unaware that Ira Weiner took a fatal bullet in his head the very next day.

What really matters now is that so much seems to be going so insane now: not just the police shootings, not just the terrifying daily violence, but these three guys being taken from the courtroom, with the shadow of their smiles haunting all who see them.

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