They should be allies against drugs, but aren't

Comment

September 15, 1996|By BRIAN SULLAM

LOST IN the furor over the police shooting that killed one young man and wounded another in the courtyard of an Annapolis housing project this month is the simple fact that policing drug-infested neighborhoods is an extremely difficult task.

Police often find themselves caught between one faction of the community -- typically a small minority -- that is willing to tolerate drug dealers and their illegal business and others who want nothing more than to rid their streets of these thugs who sell misery and create chaos.

Robinwood, a public housing complex where Annapolis police Officer David W. Garcia came upon three men fighting just after midnight on Sept. 2, is such a place.

According to the police, Officer Garcia saw Cochise Ornandez Daughtry, 18, and Eugene Estep Jr., 19, pummeling Carlester Jackson, 40, with their fists and a quart-sized beer bottle.

The seven-year police veteran told Mr. Daughtry and Mr. Estep to stop. They refused, police say. Fearing that Mr. Jackson's life might be in danger, Officer Garcia drew his gun and fired three times.

He shot Mr. Daughtry twice, in the chest and buttocks. The chest wound was fatal. Mr. Estep, meanwhile, was wounded in the groin.

Mr. Jackson claimed the two robbed him of $87. Others in the community claim the two youths were trying to collect on a drug debt.

Police say they found a packet of crack on the ground, which they believe was dropped by one of the suspects.

Given the choice, most of Robinwood's residents would like nothing more than to rid their environs of the dealers, hustlers and drug-buyers.

A matter of trust

Unfortunately, they don't trust the Annapolis police to look after their interests. For years, Annapolis blacks were at the receiving end of heavy-handed treatment by a lily-white department. Many still believe the city's police force, while integrated, discriminates in administering justice.

The recent shooting reopened these fears, which some have rushed in to exploit.

Robert Eades, a self-appointed community leader with his own record of arrests for assault, battery, robbery and drug dealing, was quick to drive a wedge between the community and police.

'Always been mistreated'

"We have always been mistreated by law enforcement in this town," he said. "They have always come into black neighborhoods and stereotyped everyone as criminals."

Other blacks in Annapolis don't believe the police version of the shooting. Several hundred people marched in a hastily arranged protest a day after the shooting.

From comments made during the march and at a gathering at the First Baptist Church on West Washington Street, many blacks don't trust the police to fairly investigate the shooting.

Despite assurances from Chief Joseph S. Johnson, the first black to head Annapolis' police, that the investigation will be thorough and fair, black residents remain skeptical.

Enter the lawyers

Seeking to capitalize on the moment, lawyers William H. "Billy" Murphy, who represents Mr. Estep, and Dwayne A. Brown, who represents Mr. Daughtry's family, held a news conference a week after the shooting.

They said they had interviewed six people who witnessed the shooting. The lawyers claim the witnesses' version differs from the police account. The lawyers have yet to produce the witnesses or relate their version of the shooting.

With a single media event, these two attorneys -- with some assertions about information and little hard evidence -- have deepened the community's fears and mistrust of law enforcement.

Despite the underlying resentment of some Robinwood residents, most recognize that the Annapolis police remain their best hope for maintaining peace and order in their neighborhood.

Most of them don't want the chaos and trouble that comes with the drug trade. They should be the natural allies of the police. These residents and the police want to clean out the drug dealers. Despite having similar goals, the two groups are estranged.

Given the history of the department and its past resistance to recruiting and promoting blacks, the skepticism about police behavior is understandable.

Perhaps the time has come for the community to think about its interest. Assuming the worst of the police is not helping them drive out drugs.

It's in the community's interest to deny the dealers a receptive environment for their business. Working with the police is an essential part of that effort.

The police, for their part, should make every effort to demonstrate that whatever happened in the past will not be tolerated now or in the future.

Perhaps the restoration of trust between police and the community will ensure that Robinwood's streets are as safe and peaceful as Main Street in the state capital.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.