A citizen dares to speak

Courage: Humanity and courage pierce the fog of drugs and the perils of street life to achieve justice.

April 04, 2002

AYOUNG WOMAN identified a cop killer in court last week. Her words resonate with hope in a city where witnesses often come down with amnesia and where citizen juries mistrust the police more than they do murderous criminals.

As a result of her testimony, Howard "Wee" Whitworth, one of Baltimore's many merchants of violence, was found guilty. He had been accused of wounding and then executing Officer Michael J. Cowdery on a city street.

Rachel Rogers told the court she was there when Mr. Whitworth shot the young man she called "Officer Mike." He fell against her legs after he was shot the first time.

At first, she determined to say nothing. The accused was her friend, someone who provided her with drugs.

Then she changed her mind. Why? A prosecutor asked.

"'Cause it's not right," she said. "It's not fair. He died for nothing, Officer Mike."

For nothing, for doing his job, for going into places where someone with a gun may appear at any moment. Open-air drug markets can become free-fire zones, and Baltimoreans who live in them have every reason to be fearful. When well-armed drug sellers wish to enforce silence, they do it without remorse. Grudges get settled with bullets.

So, people like "Officer Mike" -- who went to college, took care of his son and planned to buy a house -- die at the hands of people who only take, who make no contribution to city life.

The fearsome truth is hard and obvious: Until people think about the meaning of their choices as Rachel Rogers did, the police will have difficulty clearing the streets of addiction and death.

After the trial, Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said his men would go on risking their lives for the citizens of Baltimore "if the citizens do their job."

Michael J. Cowdery did his job. He and his family paid a horrible price. But justice may be done because one Baltimorean, Rachel Rogers, couldn't pretend she hadn't seen a thing.

If more of us were as brave as she, maybe fewer of us would have to die "for nothing."

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