Slaying of his foster son hits police officer in heart

January 01, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

After 23 years as a Baltimore City police officer, Sgt. Andre Street thought there was nothing left that could surprise him at a crime scene.

But on Sunday, when he went to the corner where his foster son was murdered the previous night, he arrived to find the chalk outline of the body -- and there were drug dealers standing on it selling crack.

"They were still doing business right there. It never ends, it just never ends," Sergeant Street, 44, said. "It was so eerie. They were there just like nothing had ever happened, right on the spot where a guy was gunned down."

He added, "I've seen a lot of bodies and handled a lot of cases. But nothing has ever hit me harder than that."

His foster son was Jack Lewis, 23. He and another man, Dwayne Oliver, 26, were at the corner of Whitelock Street and Brookfield Avenue, a neighborhood hang-out known for drug dealing, when two men fired more than 40 bullets from an assault rifle and a handgun.

Both victims died there, two more names added to the city's record-setting homicide toll of 335 people killed in 1992. As the year ended last night, police were still looking for the killers.

Why they were killed also isn't immediately known, but most likely,the men with the guns had drugs on their mind, speculates Sergeant Street, who took custody of Jack Lewis at the age of 15.

"You really can't put your finger on the reason, but the forefront is drugs. Selling drugs becomes an alter ego for these guys," Sergeant Street said. "Young blacks are having serious identity problems. The whole name of the game for them isn't so much money, but defense of honor."

Mr.Lewis "was no prince" -- he had an arrest record for drug charges -- but he was probably not the target of the shooting, his foster father said. Mr. Lewis' girlfriend had just dropped him off at the corner to be with his friends when the gunfire erupted, Sergeant Street said.

Mr.Lewis' life -- and violent death -- is virtually "the standard story" for young black men growing up in poor urban neighborhoods, Sergeant Street said.

In a recent letter Mr.Lewis sent to "Street," the name he called his foster father, he talked about the world he lived in and of dealing with having just been arrested.

"I'm doing as well as a young man could possibly do under such pTC dehumanizing conditions," he wrote. "I continue to read, write and study the inner causes of my mistakes and am trying to get myself together for the future."

He went on to write that "I have to accept the responsibility of the mistakes I have made in my life . . . It's time for me to learn from my mistakes. Stop blaming other people for my problems and start blaming Jack."

He ended the letter by saying, "Right now I feel so good about myself. I'm healthy, look good, what more could I ask for."

Sergeant Street said Mr.Lewis, like so many of the other 248 black men killed in the city this year, grew up in a bad neighborhood, with a lot of family problems.

It was when Jack Lewis was only 7 or 8 years old that he met his future foster father, in of all things a police drug raid at the boy's home.

Sergeant Street recalled that he raided the house in a search for drugs and stolen property, and that in the weeks that followed, he befriended Jack and his mother, who wanted the boy to have a positive influence in his life.

Mr. Lewis' father eventually got in deeper and deeper trouble with the law, Sergeant Street recalled. About eight years ago, he killed Jack's best friend in an argument and was sentenced to life in prison, Sergeant Street said.

The police officer, a licensed specialized parent with the state Department of Juvenile Services, became his foster father and the boy moved in with him. He was still living with Sergeant Street at the time of his death.

"People think that only bad people hang out on those street corners. You can't just think that," Sergeant Street said. "There are two sides to a lot of these guys. Like Jack, they're streetwise, it's their defense mechanism."

Sergeant Street is currently assigned to a new experiment in the city police department, a "Violent Crimes Task Force" formed earlier this year at the order of Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods. Its purpose is to combat Baltimore's growing problems associated with firearms and drugs.

"It sounds like an enigma now," he said. "I guess what I have to keep in mind with Jack is that it was an accomplishment just being able to keep him alive for a while."

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