What were true motives of Black Annapolitans?


March 08, 1998|By Brian Sullam

WERE FRIENDS of Black Annapolitans really concerned about police brutality when its leaders encouraged city residents to protest against the Police Department in the fall of 1996? Or, was the group trying to drive a wedge between the police and community to protect a lucrative drug business?

Last week's drug raids in the city cast doubt on the group's original motives.

Annapolis police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Curtis Allan Spencer, the group's organizer; Theodore Lee Brown, its president; and Harold Lovell Johnson, its treasurer, along with 13 others.

They were charged with operating a ring that allegedly sold $20,000 worth of drugs a week in Annapolis.

The government alleged in an affidavit filed with the charges that the ring controlled 80 percent of the city's drug market.

If the charges are true, the uproar over police Officer David W. Garcia's fatal shooting of Cochise Ornandez Daughtry, 18, and the severe wounding of Vernon Eugene Estep Jr., 19, Sept. 6, 1996, appears to have been nothing more than an effort to protect a lucrative business as opposed to a civic-minded concern about overly aggressive policing.

Friends of Black Annapolitans organized demonstrations against the police.

It persuaded community residents not to cooperate with the department's post-shooting investigation. The group also choreographed community witnesses' appearances before the county grand jury, with the prosecutor's acquiescence.

Many people believed at the time that Mr. Spencer and his lieutenants had a genuine interest in creating a civilian review panel to oversee the police.

Sordid police history

Unfortunately, the history of the Annapolis Police Department played into the hands of the Black Annapolitans group.

In the past, law enforcement in a city with an historic and sizable minority population had no black officers. A few of its white officers delighted in harassing African-Americans. There were many questionable police shootings of black men.

Friends of Black Annapolitans manipulated this sordid history to its advantage.

When Officer Garcia killed Mr. Daughtry and wounded Mr. Estep while trying to break up an assault, it was easy to invoke images of past police brutality.

It didn't matter that this Police Department was much different from those in the past. Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson, who is black, is respected as a professional police officer and man of integrity.

It did not matter that the facts in the case did not point to a reckless use of deadly force.

It didn't matter that Officer Garcia followed Police Department .. policy in using deadly force.

Even after an Anne Arundel County grand jury declined to indict the officer, rumblings persisted that the system was covering up.

Because no responsible community leader contradicted these assertions, the Friends of Black Annapolitans' self-serving statements about the Police Department went unchallenged.

Perhaps these charges of drug dealing will strip the patina of respectability from Friends of Black Annapolitans.

Fighting for the underdog?

In the name of fighting for the underdog, this group opposed the city housing authority's zero-tolerance drug policy, opposed evictions for drug dealing and staged numerous protest marches.

Many Annapolis public housing residents knew that Mr. Spencer's public image as a generous civic leader was a charade. They grew up with him, they saw him every day, but many were to afraid to speak up.

When asked to comment about Mr. Spencer the day after his arrest, only a few would comment -- on the condition that they remain anonymous.

Same as in Baltimore

What happened in Annapolis is no different from what occurs daily in drug-infested neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Intimidation is an important ingredient in any drug operation. Passive communities make good places for drug dealing.

But as soon as a community stands up to these dealers, they generally flee.

As long as communities such as Robinwood and Newtown remain passive, drug dealers will brazenly peddle their poison.

People can rid their communities of the tyranny and misery that drug dealers bring to a community.

But it can only happen if they cooperate with the police.

Police say tips from residents initiated the investigation into the alleged drug ring, and help from a community informant was crucial in developing the evidence police needed.

The next time someone tries to separate Annapolis' African-American community from local law enforcement officials, residents might be more skeptical of their motives.

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

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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