Grieving mayor now must move to save his city

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 03, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In front of the open casket with the slain body of Herman Jones, there was an empty seat. It was the last one remaining in the crowded Little Ark Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday morning, and now they were leading the mayor of Baltimore to it, and they sat him down, and there was Jones, the murdered city cop, lying right there in front of his eyes.

Take my hand

Precious Lord

Lead me home. . .

The mayor of Baltimore heard the words of the gospel choir pulsing through the church now, and he looked away from the casket, down to his own lap, to the little booklet somebody had placed in his hand with Herman Jones' face on the cover. It said, "In Celebration of the Life and Homegoing: Herman Anthony Jones. May 5, 1943-May 26-1993."

Jones was three weeks past his 50th birthday, about a quarter-century into his police career, when the city that devours its own had its way with him.

Take my hand

Precious Lord

Lead me home. . .

The choir sang the words over and over, voices soaring, until your heart wanted to break. A week ago, Jones had gone to an East Baltimore carryout, where somebody pulled a gun and shot him. Three kids in their middle teens, kids who should have been home doing their homework, have been charged with his murder.

And now the mayor of Baltimore opened the little booklet they'd given him, and he saw a poem written to Herman Jones by his children, 25-year-old Shawna and 22-year-old Tony, about their father and about those charged with killing him.

Their voices speak like teen-agers

But their actions speak like men.

The streets taught them to use guns. . .

But you taught us to use paper and pen.

They were a few seats away from the mayor, clinging to each other, comforting their mother, Linda, and watching the endless parade of mourners. Many wore police uniforms. They filed past the casket and looked at Herman Jones, some glancing away quickly, not wanting to dwell on this vision of their own mortality.

Then things began to get pretty emotional. A skinny teen-age kid in a T-shirt leaned down and kissed Jones on the face. A woman in a large hat, face collapsed with grief, slumped bodily as two nurses rushed to her. A gray-haired woman rose from a front-row seat, staggered about, shrieked and fell to the floor. Another, standing in the center of the congregation, sobbed loudly and held her hands imploringly toward the casket.

And through it all the choir kept singing, and their voices overpowered everyone in the place.

By the time the mayor of Baltimore reached the pulpit, he'd had time to think: about the homicides running nearly one per day in his city, and about this poor Herman Jones, and about all these mourners with their grief coming out of their pores. He said he'd been moved by the poem written by the Jones children, and he mentioned a line they'd written about their father never coming home again.

"Never," echoed a voice from the congregation.

"Our heartfelt sympathies," the mayor said softly.

"Yes, yes," came another voice.

"We must do better," the mayor said.

You waited for him to catch fire. For this mayor, it's not an easy thing. Whatever boils inside him, he keeps it covered in public. Whatever stirs his soul, he shows the veneer of an academic.

But now he reached back for something, and what came out was this:

"What is going on is a national tragedy. But no action is taken. There is no sense of urgency. Too many people are dying by this senselessness."

A moment later, he was done. He'd given it his best shot, and he'd left questions in the air: From whom was he awaiting action? From whom is he expecting a sense of urgency?

This city still awaits it from its mayor. From this low-key, buttoned-down man, we await answers to our siege mentality. From this earnest bureaucrat, we expect passion at moments like this.

If he is awaiting someone else's action, someone else's urgency, what should we be expecting from him?

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