Seeing People Behind the Murder Numbers

December 06, 1992|By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

In 1984, Irvin Jones was one of 215 people murdered in Baltimore.

In 1991, Lucy Martin McIntyre was one of 304 murder victims in the city.

In 1992, James Ernest Brodie is one of 38 people killed so far this year in Baltimore County.

In the numbers game, Irvin Jones, Lucy McIntyre and Jame Brodie are three more murder victims -- part of a plague in large metropolitan areas across the country.

As a reporter, I've covered my share of murder stories. Each time an editor asked me to go out to a victim's home or neighborhood to interview family members and friends, I would cringe and complain. It's an assignment most reporters hate. You feel intrusive and foolish because you have to ask questions like, "How do you feel about your son's murder?"

I remember one such assignment handed to me more than 10 years ago while I was an intern at The Evening Sun. A young mother had been caught in a shootout between two drug dealers in East Baltimore. As the woman fell to the ground, she yelled for a friend to take her baby. She died moments later, having safely placed her baby in the arms of her friend. I don't remember the victim's name, but I do recall the pain on the face of her mother. I finished the interview. As soon as I reached my car, I slumped over the steering wheel in tears. Reporters aren't supposed to cry during interviews.

It's OK, I guess, when the victim was a beloved friend.

When a 16-year-old with a shotgun killed Irvin Jones, his parents lost their only child. My brother lost his best friend. A community lost a young black man who wasn't on drugs or dealing drugs. Irv was a productive citizen, working and contributing to Baltimore.

When Lucy McIntyre was stabbed to death in her kitchen last year by a man high on cocaine, the city lost a community crusader who hounded landlords, trying to get them to repair properties. She had been instrumental in getting an innovative development for low- and moderate-income families built in her neighborhood. I lost a mother-in-law; she was killed seven months before I married her youngest son.

The man who murdered Lucy McIntyre robbed a neighborhood of one of its most vigilant community activists. She had dreamed of getting a city-owned vacant lot behind her home cleaned up and converted into a park. Two weeks ago, a year after the murder, the Richnor Springs Neighborhood Association broke ground for that park, named in her honor. More than two dozen people showed up that cold Saturday morning for the groundbreaking, and both men and women wept as her only daughter, Karen, sang, "Ordinary People."

When James Brodie was killed last weekend in his Catonsville barber shop, a family, a neighborhood and a business community lost a gentle man whose care for his customers went beyond cutting their hair in a fade or hightop. My family lost a wonderful friend.

The truth is that Mr. Brodie's death means that the hundreds of people who crammed into Macedonia Baptist Church Wednesday evening are now part of an extended family of people in our black community being devastated every day by this surge in violence.

As soon as I heard the news that there was a shooting at the barbershop, I prayed that the man everybody in the neighborhood called "Brodie" hadn't been killed.

Almost immediately, I recalled how thoughtful he had been. He was the kind of small businessman we need in our community. He had been my brothers' barber for more than 20 years. Brodie couldn't tell my brothers apart, so he would just call each, "Twin." He meant so much to my 27-year-old brothers, Michael and Mitchell.

When Mitchell was out of work, Brodie would give him a haircut on credit. Mitchell, who recently got a job as a security guard, had only just started paying Brodie the full $8 for a haircut. "He would just tell me, 'Pay as much as you can give; you know I'll take anything,' " Mitchell recalled.

More than a year ago, when Mitchell was in a coma caused by epilepsy, Brodie offered to cut his hair. He instinctively knew how important it was to my grandmother that my brother's hair be cut. He went to the hospital after his shop was closed and cut Mitchell's hair -- free of charge.

"He was like one of my best friends because of the way he was helping me out," Mitchell said, trying to hold back tears.

Michael says he lost one of his role models. "Brodie will be dearly missed by a whole lot of people. When we were coming up, a lot of Brodie's customers were young boys, and they are still -- or were still his clients up until that day. A lot of us who didn't have fathers looked to Brodie as a father figure. He was a friend and a counselor."

What has been the effect of so many killings? My 78-year-old grandmother has put iron grates on practically every window and door in her West Baltimore rowhouse. She won't go out at night.

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