Sims case illustrates how community of African-Americans failed an elder

July 12, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

ASSISTANT STATE'S Attorney Dana Karangelen didn't want to comment on the case of Albert Sims, who stands charged with murder in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jermaine Jordan. Sims' attorney, Mitchell Greenberg, would not comment at Tuesday's bail review hearing on what his client told him about the shooting.

That's as it should be. Neither the defense nor the prosecution should want this case tried in the media. Sims is charged with murder. His guilt has to be proven in court. But we all know the circumstances by now. On July 5, Jermaine Jordan and three other boys are riding their bicycles in the 1600 block of Llewelyn Ave. when one of them -- not Jermaine -- bricks Sims' 1984 Cadillac. Sims comes out of his house armed with a .25-caliber handgun. Police say he fired two shots, one of which hit Jermaine in the back and killed him.

But there is something about Sims' life that is a parable for our times. Is it a cruel irony that Sims lived in his block all alone? Every other house on the block is boarded up, vacant, abandoned, casualties of a neighborhood that got its butt kicked in the war on crime and drugs.

Sims, according to Greenberg, has lived alone in his house since the early 1980s when his wife died. He has no relatives here, just a few kinfolk left in Georgia.

When Baltimore police arrested Sims they found him ensconced behind a barricade. Sims' barricade was literal. It's the metaphorical barricade we've been erecting around our elderly for years now that may have contributed to Jermaine Jordan's death.

Sims had been harassed by neighborhood youths, his house broken into three times. His car was vandalized. He's a janitor who lives on a fixed income. That self-righteous rabble who scream what a crime it is to shoot a 15-year-old boy for vandalizing a car had best ask themselves how much they would have contributed from their own pockets to fix Sims' broken house windows, to replace his valuables, to pay the deductible on the damage to his car (which he probably needed to get to work) or to slip him some money for food.

The fact is we -- that black community African-Americans are always bragging about -- wouldn't have done diddly. In the latter years of his life, Albert Sims needed our back. Nathaniel Hurt, an elderly man who shot 13-year-old Vernon Holmes under similar circumstances in 1994, didn't have our back either. If either man had, they wouldn't have found it necessary to shoot.

The black community needs to be less black and more of a community. It was that way years ago. Back when we were Negroes. Back when we were colored. (Has anyone noticed that the conduct of black folks toward each other becomes more opprobrious with each name change?) Sims' detractors have said boys have been mischievous and destructive for years. They're right. They obviously can't remember the time when nearly every adult acted as a cop against such destructiveness and mischief.

We who have been basking in the glory of our African-Americanness for nearly 10 years now failed Albert Sims. In the process, we failed Jermaine Jordan. His parents sent him to military school, in, ironically again, Georgia. They were trying to get him away from the violence that claimed his life.

Jermaine was a good kid, from several reports. Serious. Studied hard. He was about to start a job last week. Those qualities, along with his parents' attempt to steer him clear of harm's way, meant that here was one kid who should have survived Baltimore's streets.

But he didn't. He died for the sins of those youths who have not learned to respect and revere our elderly, who prefer instead to terrorize and abuse them. That's not so much the fault of those youths, who probably have a hormonal imperative to be stupid. It's us -- that generation between today's elders and today's youths -- who haven't quite gotten through.

Sims now sits in the city detention center -- confused, befuddled and penniless. Even in his current dazed state, he still doesn't have our back. Not one black -- excuse me, African-American -- lawyer stepped forward to handle Sims' case pro bono. It took a lawyer from the Jewish community -- that same Jewish community an increasing number of African-Americans love to malign -- to do that.

Meanwhile, we sit back on our duffs and twiddle our thumbs while our youth run amok and our elders slip further and further into desperation. It's as though we're unaware that a nation whose elderly live in terror is on the brink of destruction.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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