Cases of black and white in the city and county

December 11, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Is Baltimore County Wallace country? That's a question I posed in an earlier column after getting several calls from readers who say that it is. Today I tell a tale of two police stops and will let our readers -- eminently smarter than Sun columnists and editors -- draw their own conclusions.

Stop No. 1: Dec. 5, 1996, at Fulton Avenue and Pratt Street. I stop as the light changes from yellow to red. A Baltimore City police car pulls up behind me. To my left is someone driving a sport utility vehicle. My son Ray is sitting in the passenger seat to my right, his hair cornrowed in neat braids.

When the light changes to green, the SUV pulls off ahead of me. I hit the accelerator and the police car follows. After about 50 yards the officer pulls me over, much to my astonishment.

"Did you know you ran that red light back there?" the officer says when I roll down my window. My astonishment turns to anger. The guy's either mistaken or deliberately lying, I'm thinking. But I keep my cool.

"Keep your hands where I can see them!" the officer suddenly orders. Now I'm nervous. It's between 1: 15 and 1: 30 in the afternoon. It's broad daylight. My hands are in plain sight. Why was this officer trying to escalate a routine traffic stop into something potentially deadly? It's as if he had concluded before he even stopped us that my son and I were the second coming of Sam and Earl Veney, brothers who were convicted of killing Baltimore City police officer in December 1964.

"Keep your damn hands where I can see them!" I want to shout to the officer. After all, he has the big gun on his hip. He's the one who stopped me for a traffic violation I didn't commit. I figure if anybody should be apprehensive, it should be Ray and me. But I keep my cool.

"I need to see your license and registration," he says. I reach into my right front pocket for my wallet, which contains my license.

"Keep your hands where I can see them!" the officer orders again.

"Officer, my license is in my wallet and my registration is in the glove compartment," I fume. I wonder how this fool expects me to get either my license or registration without reaching into my pocket or the glove compartment.

As the officer takes his sweet time writing the ticket, Ray suddenly says, "What the hell are you staring at me for?" He was referring to the cop, who apparently had become involved in some kind of stare-down with my son. Is that what this is about, I think to myself. The Baltimore City Police Department's problem with black males, especially young ones?

It should be noted that the officer in this incident is black and male. They are some of the main ones who have a problem with young black males. I tell Ray to be cool, that he will be my witness in court, because that's where we're going. Both of us saw the light turn green and the SUV pull off ahead of us. So even if we did run a red light, the officer was being very selective in whom he stopped.

I think back to the summer of 1995, when a black city cop ground my son-in-law's younger brother's hand into the pavement moments before he arrested him. According to witnesses, the cop acted as boorishly as he could in a short time span, even trying to provoke the 16-year-old lad half his size into a fight.

This cop who stopped us had to know I didn't run the red light. Was he deliberately trying to provoke us into losing our cool so he could arrest either Ray or both of us? There are several disturbing things about Baltimore City circa 1996, but none more than this: There exist black officers on the force with attitudes toward young black males worse than those of some white racists.

Stop No. 2: Dec. 6, 1996, on Liberty Road just before Rolling Road in Baltimore County. Officer Jeffrey Neral stops me about 7 p.m.

"I stopped you, sir, because you have a headlight out," Officer Neral says. This is a welcome relief after my experience of the day before. I do indeed have a headlight out. At least I'm not being stopped for a lie this time.

"I just had the thing fixed about two weeks ago," I tell Officer Neral. "This is a Ford, you know -- Fixed Or Repaired Daily."

Officer Neral chuckles at the remark and goes back to his car after I give him my license and registration. Conspicuously absent is the terse order to "keep your hands where I can see them." Apparently Officer Neral sees better at night than the Baltimore City officer of the previous day could see in broad daylight.

"I'm just going to give you a warning this time, Mr. Kane," Officer Neral says when he returns. You've probably guessed by now that Officer Neral is white. He treated me with more respect and courtesy than the black Baltimore City police officer. Officer Neral didn't assume that I was the second coming of Sam or Earl Veney, or that I was some common thug or menace simply because I'm black and male.

Yes, my encounter with the white cop in Baltimore County was more positive than the one with the black officer in Baltimore City.

If Baltimore County is indeed Wallace Country, it is indeed truly frightening to think of what Baltimore City is.

Pub Date: 12/11/96

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