At the corner where Tauris Johnson used to play football with his best friend, a somber group of city leaders called for swift measures yesterday to save the lives and dreams of the rest of Baltimore's children.
Eleven City Council members gathered with ministers at Regester and East Oliver streets to condemn the society in which a 10-year-old boy was gunned down while tossing a football at dusk. They demanded the immediate enactment of a nighttime curfew to protect young schoolchildren and summoned schools, civic groups and religious institutions to shake the conscience of a city grown accustomed to the sound of gunfire on its streets.
"We can't allow another child to die senselessly in this community or in any other community," intoned Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, who heads the council's African-American Coalition. "Tauris cannot grow up to be that football player, but another child in this block could grow up to be a football player. The killing fields of East and West Baltimore, known to all, must return to normalcy."
In a strongly worded statement, the coalition urged parents to take greater responsibility for their children and African-American institutions to unite in providing a haven. The group also called for the following actions in the aftermath of Tauris' slaying:
* A dusk-to-dawn curfew for all elementary schoolchildren to protect them from falling victim to stray bullets in a drive-by shooting. It would extend the city's existing curfew, intended to keep unsupervised children ages 15 and younger off the streets after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
* Supervised after-school programs and the opening of churches to latchkey children.
* A day-after-Thanksgiving takeover by community leaders and police officers of the 115 corners listed as "Drug Hot Spots" in the Baltimore Afro-American.
* A new requirement that parents of disruptive schoolchildren be forced to spend a day in the classroom.
"Beginning today," Ms. Dixon read in a firm voice from the three-page statement, "the African-American community must accept full responsibility for the violence and the breakdown of community mores and values in our neighborhoods.
"Beginning today, this change must occur from within the African-American community, supported by everyone, demanded by everyone. The African-American community cannot be passive while the senselessness of 'us killing us' continues. If not now, then when?"
A shaky Juanita Belle, who shares a home with Tauris' father and helped to raise the boy, fought back tears. The day before, the boy who told everyone he wanted to be a football player when he grew up was buried in a small casket with a football donated by Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore. In a halting voice, she said, "I think it's about time for everybody to wake up."
The tragedy obliges city residents to take back their street corners for at least 24 hours, said Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th. He wants community leaders to converge on street corner open-air drug markets the day after Thanksgiving.
Council President Mary Pat Clarke promptly volunteered to stand at Rosedale and North Avenue as long as necessary. She said she learned the lesson during the civil rights movement that "until you put your body and physical safety where your principles lie, there can be no progress made."
In honor of Tauris, Ms. Clarke plans to introduce a "Children's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" at the next council meeting.