City's cycle of violence spins father, son into toll

May 03, 2001|By Michael Olesker

IN THE ruins of the city of Baltimore, we find Carlos Woods, father and son. The son is 2 and fights for his life at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, having taken a bullet in the head last week. The father sits behind bars at the city Detention Center, awaiting trial on charges that he inaugurated the city's annual killing rituals in January.

So goes the cycle of violence in Baltimore. The father's case was the city's first homicide charge of the year; the son's, a symbol of the city in its random cruelty. We take heart in the drop in city homicides - down from a year ago, and down from the previous year - until we begin to look at the details.

Friday morning, the little boy was shot in the head on the front steps of his family's rowhouse in the 1800 block of N. Chapel St. As he opened the front door and reached for his favorite drinking cup, shots from a .45-caliber handgun were fired from a passing Dodge Shadow. One shot hit a 20-year-old man in the thigh as he dived for cover; another hit young Carlos in the back of the head, leaving him lying face down with hysterical family members gathered around him.

The cops call the shooting part of a dispute, a retaliation for a lounge shooting in West Baltimore a week ago that was itself retaliation for an East Baltimore shooting the previous day. All the shootings, say the cops, are drug-related.

Two blocks from the house where young Carlos was shot, the boy's father is accused of shooting Charles Williams Jr. in January. This, too, say the cops, was a drug dispute.

Williams, 22, was walking in the 800 block of Exeter Hall when he heard gunshots. He started to run. He was hit in the abdomen, collapsed, managed to tell police what had happened, and then died within the hour at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the city's first homicide victim of the year.

And now Carlos Woods Jr. struggles not to become the latest. Yesterday at Hopkins, doctors upgraded his condition from critical to serious. But he is 2 years old and took a bullet in his head, and who can imagine such trauma for any child? On Saturday, Kenneth Kelly, 24, was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting and held without bail.

And, standing in a courthouse corridor afterward, Assistant State's Attorney Louis K. Coleman told The Sun's Peter Hermann, "This kid is doomed either way."

He meant Carlos Woods Jr. The little boy has a father awaiting a murder trial. He has a grandfather who showed up in the aftermath of Carlos' shooting in a wheelchair, which he said he has used since he was shot in a drug dispute two years ago about 10 blocks from where his grandson was hit.

So it goes through the generations of those who live in the city. In recent days, we have the mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, trying to patch a budget together with thumb tacks and tape. The city is broke, but this is the least of its problems.

Understanding that his city has no future whatsoever if people are too frightened to live here, O'Malley has poured unprecedented amounts of money into his Police Department.

But the move has tightened money everywhere else.

Jobs are being cut, libraries and school buildings closed. The other day, a former Baltimore County official had a great idea. Now is the time, he suggested, for O'Malley to call the county executives around here and talk about cooperation. Plenty of these political folks toss around a word, regionalism, implying good will between city and counties. Now is the chance for them to back up their words.

And then the idea went away. Who among these county executives could possibly get serious about a city alliance in such a time? Who would risk the anger of constituents who have heart palpitations at the thought of alliances with the lawless city?

The voters out in suburbia - those who have such a marvelous time visiting the harbor on weekends, and those pondering a residential move to the city - must read these stories of open-air drug markets and violence and imagine some foreign culture, some strange people who have absolutely lost their minds.

A dozen years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke suggested attacking drugs as a health problem.

The idea was shouted down. Now we have O'Malley beefing up the cops. The numbers look better. But we still wind up with a 2-year-old kid with a bullet in his head.

Hopefully, he survives. The problem is: When he goes home, what kind of world awaits him?

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