Crime talks get started with a roar Governor irked over gun control

May 20, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Maryland's two-day crime summit started on a raucous not yesterday as a debate over crime turned into a shouting match on "The Montel Williams Show," with Gov. William Donald Schaefer doing some of the yelling.

Along with the governor, others featured on the taped show at Coppin State College in West Baltimore were actor Charles Dutton, an ex-Baltimorean and ex-convict; radio personality Tom Marr; the governor's longtime foe, attorney William H. Murphy Jr.; and three teen-age prisoners.

The show offered lively debate on gun control, harsh sentencing guidelines and how to wage the war on drugs, although no one had much air time to make their point -- which clearly irritated the governor.

"Billy, this happens to me every time [we speak together], and I'm just going to ignore it," Mr. Schaefer said after Mr. Murphy interrupted him while the governor spoke on the need for greater gun control.

Mr. Murphy, who ran against Mr. Schaefer in the 1983 Baltimore may oral primary, argued that crime has as its root causes the "racist" and "money-driven" aspects of society.

The governor quickly retorted, "I'm tired of hearing everything is racism and everything is a cop-out. This always happens, he [Murphy] has his time to talk, then he wants a piece of my time."

Mr. Schaefer continued loudly that he was frustrated with trying to argue for gun control and that "I don't want assault pistols in people's faces. . . . If there was something else I could do as governor, I would do it."

Mr. Marr, a WCBM radio personality, summed up the crime problem by saying, "American people are sick of looking at their television screens and seeing violent criminals" let out of prison to commit other crimes. He added, "Throw away the key. . . . Don't let 'em go after our grandmothers."

The two-day governor's crime summit is aimed at coming up with theories on crime and how to prevent it. Along with the Montel Williams show, several panel discussions were held on crime issues.

Mr. Williams, whose father is Herman Williams Jr., chief of the Baltimore Fire Department, brought his show to Baltimore to help focus attention on the Maryland summit.

Getting permission from the state Division of Correction, Mr. Williams brought three convicted criminals -- all teen-agers -- on the show to be interviewed. They sat on stage in orange prison uniforms, handcuffs and leg irons with correctional officers sitting behind them.

They were Grant Washington, 17, sentenced to 10 years for the second-degree murder of another boy in a drug dispute; Michael Welker, 17, serving eight years for assaulting another boy and maiming him; and Steven Branch, 18, serving seven years for robbery with a deadly weapon.

All are serving their sentences in Hagerstown-area prisons.

Mr. Williams asked Washington, "What did you feel when you killed? Did you feel any remorse? Why did you do it?"

Washington said, "I felt nothing, at the time. They were shooting at me and I returned fire. I felt bad about it later, but at the time, I didn't think about it."

Branch said he committed his crimes because he was addicted to drugs.

"I had a problem. I was young and I was addicted to heroin," he said. I just wanted to get it, rob this person, get the money, so I could go and get high."

Mr. Dutton, who killed a man during a fight in 1968 and was rehabilitated to go on and become an actor who stars in the television series "Roc," said the three boys reminded him "of the guys I hung around with 20 or 25 years ago."

He told them, "You somehow have to find a way to turn your lives around," recalling that street life in Baltimore can make young people turn to crime.

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