Sadness for family, relief for community

August 19, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Norris P. West, Joel Obermayer and Howard Libit contributed to this article.

There was sadness for the family. There was some lifting of fear. And there was relief that the young man arrested in the Guilford murders did not reinforce the stereotypical association of blacks with violent crime.

Baltimoreans yesterday learned that a grandson -- not a random intruder -- had been arrested in the slayings of an elderly couple found dead in their Guilford home on Sunday.

The suspect is white. Michael Edward Joseph Reiriz, 30, of Perry Hall was charged yesterday in the murders of his maternal grandparents, Walter E. Loch, 88, and Mary Loch, 81. They had been beaten to death in their mansion in Guilford, the city's most affluent neighborhood, and their bodies were found Sunday.

Most Baltimoreans had feared it was a random crime. Instead, it turned out to be a family nightmare.

Police officials never released a description of a suspect. A sample of Baltimoreans interviewed by The Sun -- including civic leaders, ministers, academics and neighborhood leaders -- said that their first reactions to the news of the grandson's arrest included relief. The case, they said, pointed up for them how weary they are of the stereotype that links blacks, crime and fear.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he heard those sentiments all over town.

"During three stops I made today, I spoke to members of the African-American community and many said to me, 'I was so relieved that the police arrested someone who is not an African-American,' " the mayor said last night at a Guilford community meeting attended by about 400.

Donna Jones Stanley, executive director of Associated Black Charities, said, "My first sense was, here is another heinous crime that, until it's solved, everybody will think it's an African-American.

"I am very glad that those fears are unfounded. I, as an African-American, don't wish to be looked at every time a crime of this magnitude occurs, as though I could be the culprit.

"We've come to equate the fear of somebody hurting me with fear of the black community," she said. "And that bothers me. It bothers me greatly."

Earlier in the day, the Rev. Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church, reflected on the implications of the case.

"I'm grieved whenever there is violence, no matter where it is.

"I'm also very deeply hurt that anytime anything goes wrong of a criminal nature in upscale areas of the city, it's assumed before the fact that the perpetrator must have been among 'those people.' It comes out of the veiled racism that pervades this city," Mr. Miles said.

Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, research scientist at the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and a sociology professor, said that we don't even have to talk in terms of race anymore when we talk about cases such as these.

"What's happened is the word 'crime' has become a receptacle for a series of concerns we cannot mention, the unmentionables: class and race," Dr. Fernandez-Kelly said.

"The word 'crime' has become a euphemism," she said. "It is easier to speak about crime, to speak about larceny and burglary and murder than to evoke the images of class and race. That is very, very telling.

"This is truly Orwellian, a kind of doublespeak. It's an alternative language we have to refer to the problems we see in society. We cannot use the old language of racism. We come up with all kinds of politically correct terms to refer to the same problems. When we say 'crime,' we're really saying we are afraid of lower-class black people.

"It's not bad that we use those terms, but they just conceal a lot. And then a lot of problems aren't dealt with."

Doug Wilson, general secretary of Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore, agreed. "When someone uses the word 'crime,' the association sometimes, either consciously or unconsciously, is 'black male.' "

Karen V. Poe, a media relations consultant who is black, said, "When I found out that it was a family member, I reflected back on the community's reaction: that it was an outsider, the implication being racial."

She felt great sorrow for the family, she said. But she also knew that, if the suspect had been black, "it would be the justification of another stereotype."

"My immediate response was that it was probably not what people feared most" -- a random attack, said Sandra R. Sparks, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. Inc. "Even though it is very tragic, it wasn't a question of someone coming in to the neighborhood."

And it is not just the African-American community, she said, that was uneasy with the racial undertones of the case. "I think white people were relieved that [the suspect] wasn't black, sure."

Mr. Wilson said the images portrayed in the news media help perpetuate stereotypes. "Even blacks see these images and can't help but perceive them as do whites, because all of us are looking at the same television.

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