In the year's last street vigil, a fragile hope survives West Baltimore residents mourn two men shot to death on Saturday

January 01, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer Staff writers Joe Nawrozki, Dan Thanh Dang and Shannon Murray contributed to this article.

Baltimore's deadliest year ended on a surprisingly warm and quiet evening, but at the corner of Whitelock Street and Brookfield Avenue, there was nothing surprising: A neighborhood was holding yet another vigil for the dead.

About 200 people prayed and sang on the dark, drug-ridden corner where two men died Saturday night in a barrage of more than 40 bullets.

They were homicide victims 328 and 329, but their families knew them as Jack Lewis, 23, and Dwayne Oliver, 26.

"We want to mark the spots where these two young men died. Not that they were martyrs, but they had families, and nobody deserves to die that way," said Mary Tomlinson, the West Baltimore vigil organizer who lives a block away.

Wreaths were laid on the sidewalk where the men fell.

"I hear people saying that the neighborhoods don't care. But we do. I went out there after the killings, and a lot of young men and young boys were standing around crying," Ms. Tomlinson said. "A lot of people are so afraid and feel so helpless."

Since the deaths of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Oliver, six other men -- all black males -- have died in Baltimore gunfire. The tally of 335 murders in a single year broke the old record of 330 set in 1972, a year when there were nearly 170,000 more people living in the city.

But perhaps the most alarming statistic is the number of juveniles slain in the city this year. Thirty-seven victims were under the age of 18, police said.

At the vigil, one man, Andrey Bundley, 32, spoke about saving the community and its children from drugs and violence.

"Children have become conditioned to believe that which is wrong is really right," said Dr. Bundley, a middle school vice principal in Prince George's County, who came to Baltimore to protest the killings. "We have to make it clear that things like selling drugs and people dying is wrong.

"We've got to teach them basic principles and morals through things like this vigil and bring the community back together," he said.

Of the murders in Baltimore in 1992, 303 of the victims were black, 28 were white, two were Asians and two were Hispanic or Indian, police officials reported. They spanned all ages, from a 2-month-old child who died in a fire allegedly set by his mother in July to a 94-year-old woman killed in another arson in October.

Suspects in this year's murders were black in 233 cases, white in six cases, and one was Indian. In 93 of the cases, there is no suspect information, police said.

In a recent interview, Leon A. Rosenberg, associate professor of medical psychology at Johns Hopkins University who works with East Baltimore children exposed to violence, said the death toll is creating horrifying images for city children.

"The children I see are afraid to walk to school, go outside their home for fear of being shot and killed," Mr. Rosenberg said.

"The typical stuff I see in them is sleep interference . . . sensitivity to noises they think are gunshots. . . . Some don't have a single friend who hasn't seen a dead body and blood on the street. It's a way of life."

By the time those troubled children become adults, "many feel they are not going to live to see the age of 25. So they get involved in the drug trade and live well at 16 because they won't be alive much further down the road," he said.

While Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is concerned about the carnage on the streets, he does not see a clear solution to the problem.

"There is a real sense of anxiety in the streets, the neighborhoods," Mr. Schmoke said during a recent interview.

Mr. Schmoke said he recently met with a city grand jury that investigated the criminal justice system in Baltimore. The mayor said he came away stunned.

"The grand jury members went to the Baltimore City Detention Center, Supermax and the state penitentiary and found many of the prisoners living better in incarceration than they do on the outside," Mr. Schmoke said.

"They [the grand jury members] wanted to know where is the deterrent," the mayor said.

Meanwhile, vigils became commonplace in 1992 as neighborhoods struggled to cope with the killings. During last night's gathering, Mr. Oliver's mother, Diane Oliver, said her family was comforted by the concern for her son.

Ms. Oliver's sister, Theresa Brewington, of Randallstown, said, "The vigil was good, all week long we were burdened down with the grief and we needed to do something good."

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