Rio-Jarell Tatum

May 30, 2002

A LITTLE MORE of the future died Sunday on a Baltimore city street.

Because Rio-Jarell Tatum was a Penn State student, an athlete and an honors graduate of Polytechnic Institute, his name and his strikingly confident face appeared on Page One of The Sun. His death broke through the numbing drumbeat of human loss on city streets.

Rio-Jarell Tatum died while someone robbed him of $10. Others in Baltimore have died for less.

We notice his passing because he so obviously loved life and lived his 19 years with flair and accomplishment.

One mourns -- and worries about collateral damage to the collective psyche: Will some conclude that effort and confidence and talent are meaningless if you're young and black in Baltimore? That possibility is another reason the killing must stop.

Mr. Tatum became the 102nd homicide of 2002. Because he was a college student, he avoided becoming merely a statistic: Instead, he became a more poignant setback in the city's race to make its homicide rate lower than last year's.

Most of the 101 "dead by murder" this year remain anonymous, mourned by family and friends but little more than numbers outside that circle. Many of them had promise, too. Many of them might have found a way to achieve as Mr. Tatum had achieved.

None of these deaths is acceptable. Baltimore must rage against the dark epidemic that plagues its streets -- death by gunshot at an early age. The pace horrifies and inclines many toward callous disregard or immobilizing fear.

In Jerusalem, a city under siege from suicide bombers, young people cannot go for pizza with their parents or drop into a pool hall or shop at the markets. In Baltimore, young people would have a better chance of survival if they didn't head for places like the Tunnel, a haunt known to police for violent incidents. But as long as such places exist, warnings will never be enough. To be young in this city means balancing the desire to hang with your friends against the possibility that you will pay with your life.

A member of the National Honor Society who had just finished his freshman year at Penn State, the young man known as Rio had an introspective side:

"The shoes I wear are the same size as many others. However, not many others are capable of sliding their foot in and walking where I've walked," he once wrote in an essay. So true, until Sunday night.

He wanted to be a hero, his godfather said. In a sense, he was one. Now he becomes a symbol of promise stolen. This world desperately needs every smile, every exuberant verse and every proud insight of people like Rio-Jarell Tatum.

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