Once again, McFadden misses the point

November 08, 2001|By Michael Olesker

THIS IS TO announce, with as much clarity as possible, that state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden needs to get a life. As a nervous America cringes each day from the shadow of international murderers, and a beleaguered Baltimore wrestles with the latest round of home-grown killings, here is McFadden, with his usual insight and sensitivity for the moment, invoking the name of Barry W. Powell.

Remember Powell? He was the highest-ranking black officer in the Police Department, but got himself dismissed last spring for lots of reasons. Only one was related to crime, and none was related to his skin color, though not so that McFadden would have anybody remember.

In McFadden's tiny world, all is reduced to color. You need examples? In the summer of 1999, we had an inspiring thing happen in this city's mayoral race, when a state delegate named Howard "Pete" Rawlings crossed color lines to support Martin O'Malley, and another state delegate, Jim Campbell, crossed color lines to support Carl Stokes, and each delivered a message that this city could not afford to keep strangling itself over race.

And then we had McFadden, who announced he was backing Stokes - which was absolutely fine - and then gave his reasoning, which was absolutely awful. He said the city was 202 years old, and that white people had held the job of mayor for 189 years and black people only 13 years - implying that whatever else was happening in the here-and-now such as 300 homicides a year or the lingering catastrophe of the public schools - or the character of the candidates - this racial history is why we should not elect another white person until the racial arithmetic worked itself out in about another 200 years.

And now he wishes to bring back Barry W. Powell.

He does this in response to eight homicides in four days - drug gangs settling scores, the usual madness - and says the police are spending too much time worrying about terrorists and implies that maybe it is therefore time to replace Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris.

"Osama bin Laden is not on Caroline Street," McFadden said. "There are major concerns here in our city that first must be addressed."

To which Commissioner Norris, on the telephone the next day, declared, "The fact is, Osama bin Laden's people are here, and if [McFadden] doesn't believe that, he's living in a fool's paradise. We're at war now, and not to prepare for another attack in the United States would be completely irresponsible. They're here, the sleepers; they live here, they've held jobs."

In the weeks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal investigators have tracked several of the airline hijackers' final movements to areas in Laurel, College Park and Greenbelt. Five were aboard the American Airlines Flight 77 that left Dulles Airport and crashed into the Pentagon.

Official Washington is awash in anthrax anxiety; downtown Baltimore is 40 minutes from Washington - less from Laurel and College Park. Do we need to draw anybody a map?

But this is not just an issue of police balancing their efforts between crime fighting and anti-terrorist operations. Not in McFadden's perception, anyway. And not in Norris', either.

"There is no correlation between our [anti-terrorism] efforts and the jump in homicides," Norris said. "This is gangs warring. They have them from time to time, flare-ups that date back for years. It's frustrating to have violent crime going down, and it's lost on everyone because we have this latest flare-up, and people trying to make something out of it that isn't there.

"In the first week after the attacks, there was tremendous strain on the department. We didn't know what was coming. What we've learned, though, is that we're in this for the long haul. We've got to realize we're in a war, and we haven't experienced anything like it before, and we can't panic."

To which McFadden, seizing the moment for all it is worth (to him), has declared:

"What goes around, comes around."

He was talking about the exits of Barry W. Powell and three other officers last spring. Two of the three happened to be white; their names have not once passed McFadden's lips.

"When there was a significant bump, heads had to roll," McFadden said, recalling Commissioner Norris' appearance before the City Council in May to defend his dismissals. "He said, `I'm in charge. Hold me accountable.'"

Now, said McFadden, "It's payday." Meaning, since Powell was removed after a 42-day period in which 40 homicides were committed, maybe it's time to dump Norris after the recent round of killings.

This willfully overlooks the history of Powell - his contentiousness with other high-ranking officers, and the allegations that he played a role in a famously botched sting operation (Powell denied taking part), and Powell's inappropriate defense of an officer accused of gross misconduct.

No, in McFadden's world, such things count for nothing. He sees an opening here: In a time of murder on the grand scale, and people of all color cringing equally, let's invoke the name of a police officer from the past, and the antagonisms of last spring, and use this for a little political posturing.

Memo to Nat McFadden: Get a life, will you?

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