Endless killings, no moral outrage

Indifference: By shrugging our shoulders to this wanton violence, we are condoning it.

March 18, 2001|By Lawrence Jackson

THE LAST Sunday in February, a man was shot down in front of my rowhouse in Park Heights, about four blocks south of the world-famous Pimlico Race Course.

The victim, Gregory Saunders, was not world-famous. From Edmondson Village, Saunders made his way over to the corner of Sumter Avenue and Pimlico Road late Saturday night. That corner, and another a block away, at Wylie Avenue and Pimlico Road, are notorious drug-trafficking corners.

I heard loud voices coming from the street in front of my house, followed by five shots. About three minutes later I heard a siren and thought to myself, somebody's hurt. I slipped into a pair of sweat pants and went outside, where I saw police officers prodding a man on the ground, searching for signs of life. When one of them lifted the man's head from the dirt, blood gushed from his face.

As I stood across the street from the officers and the victim, I wondered what the police were thinking as they looked at the crowd that had formed. Did they think I was the gunman? Or maybe they thought the gunman was among the other onlookers.

I told the officers what I had heard. I added to this surreal scene by asking whether the man would survive, when it was apparent that he was either dead or dying.

I was shaken by the shooting. But for the police and ambulance attendants, it was just another day's work. The victim was removed from the scene with as much ceremony as is shown for a dead rat in an alley. A human being had just been gunned down. It's terrible to think about, and I was even more shaken after I looked into the faces of the neighborhood teen-agers, who were obviously unmoved by the shooting. I returned to my house and called family and friends. I was upset and I needed to talk.

Like some of the other residents of my block, I feel contempt and pity for those who come to the neighborhood looking for drugs. But, I realize I'm fortunate. If my life had taken a different path, I might be doing the same thing.

If you go down to the corner at 4 a.m., you'll find one of my neighbors hustling drugs. And I'm worried about a 14-year-old neighborhood kid because I realize that I'm powerless to save him. I've known this kid since he was 11 years old. Last year, he helped me mow my lawn. Then the police shut down the big open-air drug market on Palmer Avenue, and the drug traffic moved a couple of blocks south. Now, he deals drugs out of an old, abandoned house.

Apparently, many people in our society don't care about drug dealers who shoot down their rivals or uppity customers. After all, we're mainly talking about poor blacks killing poor blacks in forgotten parts of our nation's cities. But those who ignore the symptoms are responsible for this disease, which ultimately affects us all. By merely shrugging our shoulders to this wanton violence, we are condoning it.

Weeks have passed since the murder and I'm still uncomfortable. I discussed the killing with my literature classes at Howard University. I told them that I heard shots and saw the victim lying face down on the front lawn across the street from mine. I described the horror of it all. Gunshots, blood and a man being swept from the street like a dead rat.

The day after the shooting, The Sun ran a brief article about the murder. It said:

"A man was shot about 12:40 a.m. yesterday in Northwest Baltimore and died about 20 minutes later at Sinai Hospital, police said.

"Detective Ray Hunter said the man, identified as Gregory Saunders, 30, of the 4300 block of Seminole Ave., was found in the 4500 block of Pimlico Road with several bullet wounds to the upper body.

"Hunter said evidence indicated that Saunders had been chased for less than a block from the 3100 block of Sumter Ave. after arguing with a man."

Three paragraphs summed up Saunders' 15 minutes of fame.

It was just another murder in a city that has become desensitized by murder, just as it was desensitized by slavery 150 years ago when slave ads appeared in the newspapers and sparked little or no outrage. This city was not sickened by human bondage then, and today we tolerate drug-related violence.

Over the past couple of decades, thousands of murder briefs have appeared in The Sun and the city's other newspapers. Thousands of murders and no moral outrage.

When we look back at the slave ads, we find it incredulous that a civilized society could condone such an abominable practice. Yet today, we have not mobilized all the resources available to stop the carnage on our streets, a problem that's just as serious as any external threat posed by our nation's enemies overseas.

Years from now, when historians look back at us law-abiding folks, they might indeed hand down harsh judgments about our indifference. And those judgments will be well-deserved.

Lawrence Jackson is an assistant professor of English at Howard University.

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