Y2K killing No. 69 in a city sick to its core

This Just In...

April 05, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

MONDAY NIGHT, as Larry Young and others shouted for the resignation of the acting police commissioner, presumably because he is white and from the city of New York, the city of Baltimore recorded its 69th homicide of 2000, and the victim was black.

Within the hour after Young and others had assembled in a West Baltimore church to call for Ed Norris to pack his bags, 21-year-old Dante Bryan was running for his life through the streets of East Baltimore.

Another young man with a gun chased Bryan on a red mountain bike. The trouble between the two, of unknown nature as of last night, had started on Milton Avenue, near Monument Street, and the gunman on the bike chased Bryan a few blocks to Belnord Avenue. Two Southeastern District police officers, responding to a traffic accident a block away, heard gunshots.

Dante Bryan, bleeding, ran from Belnord into the trashy alley behind a rowhouse he shared with friends. That's where they found him, around 10 p.m. His roommates were calling out for help when police arrived. Dante Bryan died 30 minutes later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Y2K Homicide No. 69.

That's five ahead of last year's pace.

The homicides continue in Baltimore at a breathtaking rate, but as of Monday night, Larry Young and others didn't want any help from the outside world, especially if it was to be delivered by a tough-looking New York white guy with a buzz cut.

"Norris can get the heck out of Baltimore," said Young, the WOLB-AM talk show host who served in the state Senate until his colleagues ejected him. "This is our town."

Yeah, well, our town is sick at its core, LY.

It has been sick -- infested with drugs, violence and deeply rooted poverty -- for decades. Mayors have come and gone. Police commissioners and crime strategies have come and gone. (State senators have come and gone.) And the killing persists.

Dante Bryan collapsed in the alley behind the 2700 block of E. Monument St. There's a history of blood in that block. You could look it up.

Three months ago, Terrance Price, 18, was shot once in the chest by a man with a gun outside a little store in the 2700 block of E. Monument. Price had gone to the store to buy cigarettes for his mother. He died during surgery at Hopkins.

A few years ago, Eric Smith, then 16, used a handgun to shoot two other teen-agers, Kevin Green, 18, and Gregory McGraw, 19, as they rode bicycles in the 2700 block of E. Monument. Green and McGraw died, and Smith went to prison for life.

Someone stabbed Joseph Johnson to death in his rowhouse in the 2700 block of E. Monument the first Saturday of May 1994. Johnson was 41, an employee of the state Department of Human Resources. Police believed his killer stole valuables from Johnson's house.

So there it is -- a sad litany of lives wasted in one block of East Baltimore, and there were a lot of other crimes scattered in between.

If I recall correctly, Martin O'Malley campaigned for mayor last year with a pledge to save neighborhoods like the one along East Monument Street by first running the drug dealers out. If memory serves, his campaign was all about breaking Baltimore's hellish cycle of crime, so that the city -- location of NBC's "Homicide" -- was not best known for its murder rate. And if memory further serves, O'Malley won that election big-time, with black Baltimoreans and white Baltimoreans voting for him. There seemed to be a message: Do something!

So that's what O'Malley started to do. He kept hitting the same theme, treating crime -- if you can believe it -- as if it were a matter of life and death, as critical to the people along East Monument Street as to the people along Roland Avenue. He brought in the New York law enforcement consultants to tell him what the Police Department needed. He made Ron Daniel, an African-American, his police commissioner. He made Norris Daniel's deputy.

But things didn't go according to O'Malley's plan.

For one thing, he could not have foreseen the deaths of unarmed civilians -- Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorsimond -- in police shootings in New York, and how those tragedies would heighten criticism of the Big Apple's heralded anti-crime strategies and raise fears that, during an O'Malley administration, such killings eventually would occur here.

Then Daniel quit as commissioner. Some conspiracy theorists believe that was O'Malley's plan all along: Move Daniel out and make Norris the top cop. But why would O'Malley want the political mess created by Daniel's departure and his infuriating silence on the matter?

Unfortunately for O'Malley, Daniel bugged out while the new consultants' report on the Police Department and the new crime-fighting plan was under wraps, and that only fueled suspicions about its contents. (Larry Young, for one, did not wait to read this report before all the shouting Monday night.)

So now, we have this Norris from New York as our new commissioner. He has a strategy for making the police more effective and the city safer -- something like targeting neighborhoods that have been statistically chronic with crime, moving in and breaking the trends, maybe even reducing the killings. Maybe even in places like East Monument Street.

Yeah, this is our town, and our bloody town needs all the help it can get.

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