A common truth in Hubbard killing

Justice probe: All sides of community need to concur in what happened and what is needed.

October 21, 1999

THE investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the FBI into the fatal shooting Oct. 7 of Larry Hubbard by city police is the most important of several announced.

It may not be the quickest, but its conclusions will have the greatest likelihood of acceptance by all sides of the community.

That does not absolve the acting police commissioner, Col. John E. Gavrilis, or State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, from conducting their own investigations.

The most important outcome is a common understanding of what happened. Only that could bring a consensus on what needs to be done. There cannot be one truth for blacks, another for whites; one for city residents, another for suburbanites; one for police and another for civilians.

Failures to achieve common perception lead to crises, not to their solution.

"I caution people," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wisely said, "to wait on reaching conclusions before all the evidence is in." He called on his experience as state's attorney to point out the difficulty of such investigations.

In hindsight, Mayor Schmoke did not help when, on Sept. 24, he appointed Cols. Gavrilis, Elbert Shirey and Robert Smith to three-week rotations as acting police commissioner to replace Thomas C. Frazier. The department needs firm leadership to trust during heightened citizen criticism.

Restoring confidence in the department falls to the next mayor, Martin O'Malley or David F. Tufaro. Mr. O'Malley, favored by most analysts, has put out feelers. The new mayor may require an interim commissioner while he searches for a permanent appointment.

What's at stake is not the slogan, "zero tolerance." The 15 shootings by Baltimore police this year occurred in the absence of any such policy. The next commissioner may have that slogan to define and implement, but will certainly have the shootings to address.

It is not surprising that William H. Murphy Jr., lawyer for the Hubbard family, brought the celebrated Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., in as co-counsel. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Cochran won a quick and large settlement in August for the family of Junious Roberts, killed by Montgomery County police in April. The case, involving police training and camera installation, came a week after Chief Charles A. Moose took over the Montgomery department, committed to changing it.

Baltimore City cannot move forward without effective policing, which it cannot have without public trust in police. That requires a common understanding of what is and is not in need of being fixed.

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