Black anger at slaying by officers misdirected

March 08, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier looked at the crowd gathered Monday at Upton's Shiloh Baptist Church and uttered a truth that, until then, I thought had been taken for granted.

"Police are trained to shoot to kill," he announced, to the gasps, moans and mutters of disbelief of the crowd. The reaction, and the outburst of rage that followed in the wake of Sean Freeland Sr.'s killing by two Baltimore police officers on March 1, reveal that some peculiar ailments do indeed afflict some black Baltimoreans.

The first ailment is a total detachment from reality. Who, in 1997, does not know that police officers are trained to shoot to kill? And why would we want them to do otherwise? The only other option is to shoot to wound. Woundly force. Ah, there's a fascinating idea. Fascinating and stupid.

I blame Hollywood for this. Hollywood has messed up more minds than bad whiskey. It's only in Dirty Harry movies and television cop shows where people are shot, fall down and die instantaneously. It's only in this fantasy world where law enforcement folks shoot to wound or disarm.

Police officers in the real world know better. An armed person, even wounded, can kill you. That's why police are trained to shoot to kill in deadly force situations. And shooting to kill isn't an exact science. Even in the Freeland slaying, the officer who fired the shots at close range still ended up shooting himself and his partner.

Will any of this matter to the hundreds who came to Shiloh Baptist Monday night to express their feelings about the Freeland slaying? Probably not. Because another ailment is that there are black Baltimoreans who are very selective in those who are deserving of victim status. Is it an accident that there's been more outrage among some black Baltimoreans about Freeland's death than that of 3-year-old James Smith III?

Let's examine the difference between the two victims. Young James was virtually without sin, sitting in a barbershop waiting to get his hair cut when two idiots gunning for each other shot up the place and hit everybody but their intended targets.

Freeland? Well, let's see what court and police records have to say about Sean "Solid Citizen" Freeland. According to a Sun story written by John Rivera and William E. Thompson this past Tuesday, Freeland's record read as follows:

Convicted of drug possession in November of 1995.

Arrested in February of 1996 when police found 21 baggies of crack cocaine on him. He was charged with simple possession, probably because prosecutors didn't want to clog the courts with felony cases. But anyone who believes Freeland intended to use 21 baggies of crack himself probably feels police should use woundly force.

Arrested in December of 1994 when police found 30 small plastic bags of crack cocaine and a paper bag containing three vials of crack cocaine.

James Smith and Sean Freeland were killed within two months of each other. The only difference was in who killed them. More people showed up to question police about Freeland's killing than showed up at a candlelight vigil for James Smith. Our bTC outrage, it seems, is only awakened when police kill young black men who are apparently armed and have a history of drug arrests. Young James, because he was killed by a black male, doesn't qualify for victim status.

If black Baltimoreans wanted to get angry at police, they should have done it last month, when police served a restraining order on one Vincent Brown but didn't seize his .357 Magnum. Within two days, police charged Brown with fatally shooting Francseea Batts, who had requested the restraining order.

Police argued then that they could not legally seize the gun. They even claimed they couldn't open the locked carrying case in which Brown carried the gun. That, you see, would have been an illegal search.

Exactly what kind of bat guano police were slinging when they made this claim is anyone's guess. But even those folks who believe in woundly force know that Baltimore police make illegal searches, probably on a daily basis. I don't say that to knock police. I suspect they make such searches to seize illegal drugs or guns and figure judges and lawyers will wrangle with each other about the civil liberties matters.

But in the Francseea Batts case they should have erred on the side of caution by searching the bag. But black Baltimoreans, by and large, didn't get angry with the police for not doing that. Batts is a black woman killed by a black man. Like James Smith, she doesn't qualify for victim status either. James was too young, and Batts was too female.

Besides, the perpetrators of the crimes are the wrong color and don't work for the police.

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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