Gun culture kills a father, city's future

Grievous losses: How many more families must lose sons, daughters, mothers and fathers?

January 19, 2002

WILL THE murder last Tuesday night of Tifford Fields shock law enforcement into a renewed response to the plague of shooters on Baltimore streets?

Will U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio become a full partner in the effort to prevent wanton, mindless killings?

We pray he will not persist in his determination to operate as if the criminal justice system in Maryland, as now constituted, can protect family men like Mr. Fields.

The system doesn't work. But so far Mr. DiBiagio withholds important elements of federal enforcement power. Yes, he's handling some gun cases, but not enough. And he's allowing offenders too many offenses before he takes a case.

He's the U.S. attorney in a city overrun by guns and by shooters who feel absolutely free to use them at will. To end the cycle of shooting, Baltimoreans need to crack the gun culture. That will require communication of the certainty that shooters will be prosecuted efficiently and shipped away when convicted. It's a big job. So how can any bit of power be left on the shelf? Is the life of Tifford Fields a price we're willing to pay?

We have every confidence that Mr. DiBiagio brings a high level of professionalism to his new post. We agree with his views about the importance of strengthening, and eventually relying on, the entire system of law enforcement. State prosecutors and courts must do better.

But we cannot agree with his decision to run his office now as if it were a blue-stocking law firm, free to pick and choose its cases as if separated from the mayhem in the streets, as if the death of Mr. Fields, proud father of three sons, were not symbolic of every father in Baltimore and Maryland, symbolic of this city's precarious future.

Every life is precious. But here, it seems, was a model father. He worked hard, cared for his children and seemed on the verge of a promising future. He'd purchased a 1992 Lexus, the car of his dreams. He was moving to a new house. He was the sort of man who anchors a decent and strong community, a man who nurtured and dreamed as all of us do. Now he is gone.

We mourn his loss, and cry out in despair and anger at his killers. But we are not asking for uncoordinated, merely symbolic gestures. The approach must be thorough. It must utilize every resource.

When society leaves enforcement powers on the shelf, it renews a criminal's license. Our nation must worry about international terrorism, but so far that threat pales in comparison to the daily carnage of gunfire. Shooters in Baltimore fire at will at anyone in their way every day.

So far in 2002, 10 people have been killed on city streets and, by the time you read this appeal, the number may well be higher. Over the last 10 years, the toll exceeds 3,000. Death on the streets is part of the Baltimore way of life.

We continue to applaud Mayor Martin O'Malley for his commitment to save city families. We applaud his police chief, Edward Norris, who puts every ounce of his professionalism to work. We are grateful to every cop who risks his or her life every day.

Of course, we cannot command Mr. DiBiagio to join them. We just don't understand why he doesn't find the loss of life to gun violence worthy of his most intense effort.

Perhaps he could explain his reluctance to Mr. Fields' wife and three sons.

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