Kurt L. Schmoke, a calming presence

Leadership: As Baltimore confronts concern and anger over police shootings, the mayor steps up

November 28, 1999

The fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old robbery suspect on Thanksgiving day -- the second such shooting in less than two months -- could deepen a sense of apprehension in city neighborhoods.

Authorities must complete inquiries into both cases as quickly as possible, taking every possible step as they do so to reassure citizens that the results are honestly reported.

The public must avoid pre-judgment. Authorities can help by demonstrating their determination to deliver the most professional policing possible.

Exemplary leadership is already coming from outgoing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Since the death of Larry J. Hubbard on Oct. 7, Mr. Schmoke has gone immediately to any event which seemed likely to increase tension.

Though he has mere days left to serve, Mr. Schmoke has been providing just what the city needs: an alert, sympathetic and firm presence. He has been careful to remind Baltimoreans that verdicts must await the investigative findings.

Sadly, another moment of potential upheaval came Thursday morning when 17-year-old Eli McCoy was shot three times by a Housing Authority police officer, Kenneth M. Dean III.

Officer Dean said Mr. McCoy appeared to be reaching for a gun. A witness said the young man was on his knees with his hands up when he was shot. Similar conflicting accounts surround the Hubbard case.

Mr. Schmoke has assured a full investigation. "Nothing will be swept under the rug," he said.

Residents of the neighborhood around North Avenue and Dukeland Street quickly blamed the crime-fighting strategy called "zero tolerance." No such strategy exists officially in Baltimore, but Mayor-elect Martin J. O'Malley embraced the concept during his campaign. No fan of the approach himself, Mr. Schmoke might well have turned away from controversies his successor will inherit on Dec. 7, inauguration day.

Instead, he has taken these events as seriously as if they came during his first week in office. He clearly cares about his city and wants justice and peace for its neighborhoods. Others must find ways to follow his lead.

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