Friends, Bullets are visions of kindness to blinded policeman

John Steadman

December 21, 1992|By John Steadman

When the crowd noise abated, the six friends surrounding James E. Young Jr., a valiant Baltimore police officer, were able to explain to him what was happening on the court. He couldn't see the ball-handling, the fast breaks and the points clicking on the giant adding machine that is a basketball scoreboard, so they, out of necessity, became his personal play-by-play announcers.

Young is living in a world of almost total darkness as a result of being shot in the head by a hoodlum in a Baltimore high-rise apartment building last September. He also is restricted in his movements, going only where his wheelchair will take him within the confines of the Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital.

There's both physical and emotional trauma. As a 26-year-old symbol of decency and justice, this was a policeman who had a desire, an almost individual crusade, to arrest every drug dealer and user he could find, and at all times was aggressive in his pursuit of the criminal element. The oath of office to uphold law and order was something he believed in with passion, a pledge he accepted and honorably fulfilled.

Young didn't know how to back off, look the other way or take the easy way out.

He was working plainclothes with his partner, Officer Charles Green, in the Southeastern District when it happened. Those involved have been apprehended but not before Young paid a serious price. He has only a sliver of vision that allows him to recognize bright colors. The days and nights are long and flashbacks of the gunfight won't go away -- not entirely.

For now, he's at Montebello, where his progress is being monitored and every known medical treatment is being used in an attempt to improve his condition. As a change of pace, something different, what about the possibility of going to a basketball game, the Washington Bullets vs. the Chicago Bulls at the Capital Centre?

The thought occurred to Sgt. Ronald Dorsey, who had worked with Young, and he asked Maj. Harry Koffenberger if such a trip had his approval. Doctors said it would be permissible for Young to have his first night out, but only if two police officers held "practice" in how best to lift him in and out of a Police Department van for the trip to Landover.

Dorsey, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where he was an outstanding wide receiver, prepared to buy tickets but the game was sold out. He had no chance, but the Bullets heard of his efforts and said they were going to find room for Young. A team vice president, Rick Moreland, and Matt Williams, the public relations director, promised they would make accommodations.

Before the game, Wes Unseld, the Bullets coach who lives in Baltimore and had read details of how Young was wounded, went to the policeman's side for a visit. He leaned in and said, "Jimmy, pal, I know about your courage. We're all praying for you. And we are grateful for the police in Baltimore and how they put their lives on the line."

Then to break the tension, Unseld said, "Did you come here to cheer the Bullets or Michael Jordan?" It eased the situation and Jimmy smiled.

He never got the chance to meet Jordan because they weren't at courtside and the capacity crowd made it virtually impossible to do that. Hopefully, the meeting may happen another time.

What the Bullets are considering is some type of a benefit in Baltimore for Jimmy Young. They want him to realize his efforts and those of other police officers in protecting the citizens of a community never can be taken for granted.

"It's rare when we members of the police department see something good," said Dorsey. "We deal constantly with the bad things. Yes, Jimmy is coming along in rehabilitation, considering the way he was injured. The way the Bullets treated Jimmy was exceptional. They gave him an autographed ball, a warm-up suit and a cap. It wasn't so much all of that but the way they made him feel that impressed all of us."

Making the trip, in addition to Dorsey and Green, were Sgt. Antonio Williams, Officer Vince Moore and James Skinner, a close friend of Young's who wants to become a policeman. They let Jimmy know again how important he is to them and they are going to continue to be of help.

"You'll never know how much this means," said Young, who obviously was tired when the van came back from the game, close to midnight, and he was wheeled to his room by fellow officers. "I want to thank you, Sgt. Dorsey, in looking out for me. It's something I'll never forget."

Dorsey didn't attempt to make it any kind of a humanitarian effort. It's merely what policemen always must do for one another. There's a fraternalism that binds them, a vast measure of respect and a desire to come to those in trouble, including their own, that can't be expressed in mere words.

They know a "good cop" when they see one and Officer James E. Young -- alert, responsive and brave -- more than fulfilled their own professional evaluation for how a man or woman is supposed to act and care when wearing the badge.

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