Walking while black now reason for suspicion

May 21, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

MY SON HAS a message for Mayor Martin O'Malley: Thanks a bunch. Thanks a million for turning the Baltimore City police loose on me.

It happened a couple of weeks back, just days before those 19 characters on what is jokingly referred to as the Baltimore City Council showed their utter contempt for civil liberties and the Constitution by confirming Ed Norris as police commissioner. My son, 25 come this September, had just walked out of a 7-Eleven store at the corner of Reisterstown Road and Belvedere Avenue toting a bag of doughnuts.

In saner places, a 25-year-old black man emerging from a 7-Eleven with a bag of doughnuts wouldn't be considered a crime. But America has never been sane when the subject is young black men who have, since days of old, been considered a public menace. So carrying a couple of doughnuts around is not considered a normal activity but the prelude to potentially felonious mischief.

Two cops descended on my son, stopped him, frisked him "about five times," he estimated, and then proceeded with the third degree. Where did he live? In the 3100 block of Garrison Ave. Why, then, was he walking along Belvedere Avenue?

Belvedere Avenue is only one block from where he lives. In other neighborhoods, taking a stroll through the neighborhood -- especially one block from your house -- is considered a reasonable and healthy activity. But not where young black men live. Taking a leisurely walk only indicates that you have other, more sinister thoughts in mind.

"When was the last time you were arrested?" the officers wanted to know. Notice how the officers assumed he had been arrested. They didn't ask, "Have you ever been arrested?" My son should have told them the only time he's been arrested was for carrying a gun to protect himself from the very muggers these officers assumed he was. ("Where were they when I was getting robbed in January?" my son wanted to know. It happened within a few blocks of where he was being questioned.)

"Do you have any outstanding court dates?" was the last query, one my son found excruciatingly stupid.

"Yeah, like I'd tell them even if I really did," he told me.

So welcome to new Baltimore policing, courtesy of the O'Malley-Norris-Sheila Dixon regime. Maybe we should have a sign for folks entering Baltimore that says "Welcome to Baltimore, where police will stop you for being black on a weeknight." My son's experience smacks of a jackboot affair to me, an illegal stop-and-frisk that sounds like a violation of the grounds the Supreme Court laid down in Terry vs. Ohio back in 1968. But Balti-morons are OK with it. They've said it over the airwaves on talk radio and on the pages of this paper: As long as crime is reduced, no violation of civil liberties or the Constitution is too great. If homicides are reduced, anything goes.

I've always suspected that Americans, who fancy themselves democratic by nature, are really fascistic. The Founding Fathers knew this. That's why they drew up the Bill of Rights. If Americans were democratic by nature -- fair, just, always hankering to protect the rights of others, especially the underdog -- we wouldn't need a Bill of Rights, which act as a kind of protection against the Joe Stalin in us.

But if we've definitely committed to fascism now, let's do it right. Let's be efficient about it. When the cops finished questioning my son, they let him go on his way. That was not efficient. It left him free to return to his apartment, where he may have committed the sinister act of eating his doughnuts. Why, he may have sat down to watch television. Who knows what heinous crimes that may have led to?

If we're serious about reducing crime, here's what we must do: Impose martial law and curfews on all high-crime areas of Baltimore. Round up all suspected drug dealers and addicts, suspend habeas corpus and jail them all without trial. Conduct house-to-house searches to remove all guns and drugs.

Of course, some innocent folks might get tossed into the hoosegow under this plan. But we can't quibble about minutiae like jailing an innocent person or two, or 10, or a thousand. We're talking about reducing crime here. And, as Balti-morons have made clear to their mayor and police commissioner, anything goes. We'll accept any violation of our rights, as long as the homicides go down.

Once we do this, we'll have to make an announcement to the rest of the world that we are no longer a democracy, that we no longer believe in freedom and rights and justice and all that nonsense. We'd have to admit that, like the good Germans circa 1933, we are willing to trade our freedoms for safety.

And as we all know, that German experiment with Nazism turned out well, didn't it?

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