Hundreds at rally urge Norris to resign

Tense meeting draws 800 in West Baltimore

April 04, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

At a meeting at Unity United Methodist Church in West Baltimore last night, about 800 people delivered a message to Mayor Martin O'Malley -- acting Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris is not wanted here and should go back to New York.

At the community meeting called by former state Sen. Larry Young, people said repeatedly that Norris must go. Some called for Ronald L. Daniel, who resigned last week as commissioner, to be reinstated. Others wanted Col. Barry W. Powell, the highest ranking black member of the department, as the next commissioner.

The meeting began after 7 p.m. and lasted for a little more than two hours. At times, tensions ran high. When city Councilwoman Catherine Pugh urged people to read a private consultant's 152-page report on how to police the city before making judgments, some shouted: "Your 5 minutes are up" and "We don't want the plan. We don't want you."

Later, Young and Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., the church's pastor, said they'd like to hold another forum after people have time to digest the report. Handy is chairman of the public safety committee.

When Tony White, O'Malley's press secretary, spoke, some grew belligerent, prompting Young to threaten to end the meeting if White wasn't shown respect.

Generally, those at the meeting were civil though insistent that Norris should go.

"Norris can get the heck out of Baltimore," Young said to loud applause shortly after the meeting began. "This is our town. I understand what happened on Election Day, and we can't undo that. That's it. That's it. That's it. But whose town is this?"

Young and others said they fear Baltimore will become "the next New York" if Norris is appointed commissioner. Throughout the meeting, several references were made to Amadou Diallo, a New York man shot 19 times by police because they thought the wallet he held was a gun.

Councilwoman Bea Gaddy said she thinks O'Malley has made a mistake. "I don't want to see what I feel, ladies and gentlemen," Gaddy said. "I don't want to see that this was planned. I hope it wasn't."

Before the meeting, Danita Robinson, 34, sat on the steps of her mother's Stricker Street rowhouse, yards from where the meeting was held, and said she thinks O'Malley planned to remove Daniel.

"I don't think it was right," Robinson said. "He's bringing in all of these police from New York. New York don't know what's going on down here. Daniel was a good choice because he's been on the force for 26 years."

Robinson said she wasn't aware of the meeting and probably wouldn't attend.

As the meeting wound down and at the request of Young, three Baltimore police sergeants -- Rick Hite, Louis Hopson and Robert Richards -- talked about Powell, acting deputy commissioner of operations.

Young endorsed Powell, saying O'Malley should give strong consideration to appointing him.

Hopson said Powell, a 26-year veteran, has four degrees, is enrolled in law school and "has been responsible for correcting, assisting, guiding and motivating many young African-American officers."

As the officers talked about Powell, some people whispered, "Who is Powell?"

A man interrupted them, saying: "Barry Powell is good, but what about Daniel? We're already divided. We've already kicked that man to the curb."

Young said Daniel was invited to attend the meeting.

Hopson said Daniel should have been there to explain why he stepped down.

"He made certain assurances and promises, and we need to know where it went wrong," Hopson said.

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