Baltimore residents relieved But many think all 4 were guilty

April 18, 1993|By Jonathan Bor and Michael A. Fletcher | Jonathan Bor and Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writers

Whether black or white, Baltimoreans seemed relieve yesterday that a Los Angeles jury convicted two police officers in the Rodney G. King beating, but some said the acquittal of two others meant only partial justice was served.

Baltimore police were placed on longer shifts and doubled up in patrol cars. Like other people, they were pleased that city streets remained quiet after the verdict. Most declined to offer personal views on the jury's decision.

Gentle spring breezes set the tone for city residents, on a day perfect for stoop-sitting, car-washing and skateboarding down sidewalks. But most people had seen the videotaped beating countless times and were quick with an opinion.

Sympathy for Mr. King and disapproval of the officers' conduct were evident in nearly all-white Canton as well as in the predominantly black areas between Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road.

Despite differences of color, the neighborhoods share the economic middle-ground: household incomes in the mid- $20,000s, homes renting in the $300s and houses selling for $40,0000 to $60,000.

In Northwest Baltimore, most people seemed to think that all four officers should have been convicted, although no one seemed angry about yesterday's verdict.

"After the first trial, I was real upset," said Carol Means, as she strolled along the shopping strip near Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard. "I feel a little bit better this time. But I really think all of the officers should be convicted.

Ms. Means said there was one reason that all four officers were not convicted long ago: Mr. King is black, and the officers are white.

"I still think that blacks in some cases don't stand a chance," she said.

But Marquest Coleman, a Baltimore firefighter who was also out shopping, said the problem was not race but the danger of police officers who cross the line.

"I have no problem with the verdict. I just think the police stepped beyond their authority," Mr. Coleman said. "I think [Mr. King] was abused, even if he was buzzing on something. But I don't think it was a racial thing. It could have happened to a white guy, a Korean guy or a Hispanic guy."

Mr. Coleman said he has had several relatively minor run-ins with police officers -- black and white.

Once, he said an officer followed his car for several miles before ++ accusing him of trying to run the police car off the road. The officer, like Mr. Coleman, was black. The incident ended when another officer came up and determined nothing had happened. That officer was white.

"I've been stopped, I've had cops say things to me that were inappropriate, but that goes for whites and blacks," he says. "I think cops in general have a problem dealing with authority."

Shirley Cosby Huffine had just finished cutting her front lawn when she was asked about the verdict. All in all, she said, the jury probably did the best thing.

"I think they probably reached a compromise verdict," said Mrs. Huffine, a lawyer who lives on Dorchester Road. "I can't imagine that the result of the last trial and everything that followed it didn't go through the minds of most jurors."

Residents in Canton sounded similar themes.

"I think the cops were wrong for beating him," 19-year-old Marcia Nauman said outside her rowhouse two blocks below Patterson Park. "I think lots of cops are getting away with a lot. They beat my brother like that, and they got away with it."

George Darraj, a man of Greek extraction who moved to Baltimore from Israel several years ago, stood at his Fait Avenue store, Reem's Food Market.

"The four of them should be guilty because they were all together," he said. "Everybody has rights. The police should behave humanely with everybody, whether they are black, white or yellow."

Like many other Baltimoreans, Mr. Darraj said he felt the jury struck a compromise: convicting two officers to avert a riot, acquitting two to show understanding for the police.

Behind the counter at Chris' Seafood on South Montford Avenue, owner Paul Crist said the compromise was wrong.

"They were all in it," he said. "They should all be guilty. I just think they used the two [who were convicted] as scapegoats."

Sgt. Jerry DeManns of the Western District station said: "I'm not happy or sad. I didn't get involved with the nuts and bolts of what went on with the case. My only concern is what goes on in Baltimore . . . and if Baltimore can remain calm, great."

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