Cornered and Caught Residents rage at system out of control

January 20, 1993|By Sandy Banisky and Eric Siegel | Sandy Banisky and Eric Siegel,Staff Writers Staff writers Jay Apperson, Robert Hilson and Joe Nawrozki contributed to this article.

For yet another day, Dontay Carter, a kid from East Baltimore, had obsessed a city.

Neighbors warned each other to beware. Citizens phoned City Hall and the State House. Listeners called radio talk shows to shout about a 19-year-old killer who had disappeared into Baltimore's streets.

Dontay Carter now symbolized more than urban crime. He was a metaphor for a system that that seemed out of control.

For some, Carter's escape caused very specific concern:

Witnesses who had testified in his first trial worried that Carter would come looking for them. Young blacks suddenly found themselves stopped for questioning by police officers intent on finding the escapee.

For other Marylanders, Carter's escape provoked anger -- rage focused not simply on one convict but on the violence that's become part of urban life.

"We don't need more prisons," one man shouted into his car phone during the Allan Prell show yesterday morning on WBAL radio. "We need coliseums and lions."

In the East Baltimore neighborhood of Ashland, Victoria Evans, president of the community association, said wearily, "There are so many Dontays. He's different just because he's so brazen and bold about it. This neighborhood is under siege."

At the Harbor Park garage, from which Carter kidnapped Vitalis V. Pilius last February before bludgeoning him to death, manager Mark Vinson had hung the latest wanted posters. He was providing escorts for customers who did not want to walk to their cars alone.

"I've spent the day wondering where he is," Mr. Vinson said of Carter.

On the radio, callers were doing more than wondering about Carter's whereabouts. They were demanding more prisons, meaner prisons, the firing of corrections officials, the dismissal of the public safety secretary.

"We're making their stay in jail too much like a country resort," one man said.

"Revolving-door justice," another said, referring to early releases for some criminals to free up space in overcrowded jails for the next inmates.

The callers -- almost all men, both black and white -- railed that prisoners are coddled and that guards are fools. The listeners enthusiastically backed Mr. Prell's call -- perhaps a facetious one -- that the state start a new instant lottery game to raise money for new jails.

And Mr. Prell talked about the prison inmate triathlon -- an Olympic event that consisted of three parts: "Lock the door. Open the window. And jump."

None of the callers' complaints were new. But now they had a criminal legend to support their arguments. How good could the system be? A cocky teen-ager had outwitted it with ease.

Lenneal Henderson, professor of government and public administration at the University of Baltimore, called Carter "a gremlin on the loose, a kind of modern-day Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde. That he's able at his age and in his circumstance to defy the system makes him sensational -- and not in a good way.

"Unfortunately, he's a metaphor and a symbol for fears a lot of people have about young African-American males," Mr. Henderson said. "But he is an aberration, not a pattern. That is important to emphasize."

But Victoria Evans, who lives in a neighborhood near Johns Hopkins Hospital where babies have been caught in cross-fire, indeed sees a grim pattern.

"Dontay is just one of many dangerous young black men in the city," said Miss Evans, who also is black. "If you read the police blotter, it's unreal. I read the police blotter last night and there were four or five robberies and an attempted rape in this general area. Everybody's living in fear.

"Until the federal government starts pouring money into the city and creates some programs, particularly for the addicts, and takes the profit out of drugs, we're not going to see a decrease in crime," Miss Evans said.

In West Baltimore, Dr. Charles W. Griffin, president of the West Arlington Improvement Association, said Dontay Carter pointed up "the need for some emergency kind of legislation, an anti-loitering law, a curfew law. You need to do something about getting all these people off the corners so people feel free to walk the streets."

With Carter at large yesterday, police were making stops everywhere. Once again, the effects of Dontay Carter's crimes were reaching far beyond him. This time, it was young blacks who felt Carter's escape made them the focus of unfair police attention.

Caron Wallace, 18, and Glen McCray, 20, two students at Baltimore City Community College, said they were stopped by police and asked to produce identification as they walked near their home near Druid Hill Park Monday night.

"It's like right now if you're black, police think there's a good chance that you're him," Mr. Wallace said before Mr. Carter was apprehended.

"Squirrel" Purnell, 32, said he and five friends were standing near the Old Town Mall, just east of downtown, about 9:30 Monday night when a police officer shined his spotlight on them and made all of them produce identification.

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