Decayed street sets a stage for tragedy Vigilantism: Neighborhood's condition merits more debate than the character of Albert Sims.

July 12, 1998

LIKE THE Nathaniel Hurt case four years ago, this past week's killing of an East Baltimore boy by an elderly man frustrated by youth vandalism brings up mixed emotions.

How can anyone not empathize with the plight of Albert Sims, an old man alone on an utterly desolate street, trying to protect his property from kids who, according to neighbors, routinely cause trouble? But 15-year-old Jermaine Jordan is dead -- shot, not in the course of attacking, but in the back, while fleeing in fright. It should go without saying that anger and frustration, understandable as they are in a case like this, do not justify pulling a gun and shooting.

Mr. Sims is charged with first-degree murder. The justice system will determine his culpability.

In the meantime, there are more important questions than the extent to which Albert Sims and Jermaine Jordan are responsible for their own tragedies. The most disturbing thing about this story is the reaction it provoked in the neighborhood where it happened.

Nearby residents were not shocked. They basically said it was only a matter of time before something like this occurred and they expect it to happen again.

They talked of children -- "hoodlums" -- who are a constant nuisance. They described senior citizens fed up with harassment.

One woman asked reporters to look beyond the killing to the conditions that spawned it. We must do that. How does a community get to this point, where a street is uninhabited save for a lone 77-year-old; where kids roam about wreaking havoc; where people are desperate for protection and inured to tragedy?

All of us -- elected officials, police, civic leaders, ordinary folks who care when otherwise decent people fall victim to horrid circumstances -- should be seeking answers for the citizens who live in places like the neighborhood that proved the ruin of Albert Sims and Jermaine Jordan.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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