Fatal shooting leaves blame on both sides

July 13, 2002|By Gregory Kane

THE SHOTGUN in my house rests unloaded in a closet where the grandkids can't get at it when they visit. It, or a weapon like it, has been around for more than 16 years.

I got the shotgun when I lived in the 4100 block of Pimlico Road. Things were fine at first, but when drug dealers and addicts took over a nearby corner, they started the annoying habit of camping out on the steps and porches of neighborhood folks who worked for a living.

We put in eight-, 10- or 14-hour days, only to arrive home and have to ask some lout to vacate our premises. There were some cases where the louts took umbrage. I armed myself so they'd know I had the means to back up my demand.

But I never had to use the shotgun on Pimlico Road. I moved from there to another part of Pimlico. A few years ago, I left my house to find the front passenger window of my car smashed, a brick lying on the seat and the glove compartment ransacked. I pondered what I would have done had I caught the thief in the act. Would I have grabbed the shotgun and shot the culprit?

"For breaking out a car window and stealing loose change?" I thought. "I don't think so."

When some guy grabbed some blank videotapes from the trunk of my car, I had an opportunity to retrieve the shotgun before I drove around the neighborhood and tracked him down. But I didn't. With the guy in front of me and to the right as I followed him down Reisterstown Road, I could have rammed into him and claimed brake failure.

"For $10 worth of videotapes?" I thought. "I don't think so."

The offenses, while inspiring angry reactions, didn't require violent ones. So for years, the shotgun has remained in the closet.

In West Baltimore this morning is a woman who wishes to heaven that another shotgun, located near her in a house that stands in the 2300 block of Harlem Ave., had stayed in the closet. Marnice Cooper is the mother of David Stewart, only 15 when he was shot in the back Thursday afternoon after he allegedly tried to steal a bike from a back yard.

Police say a man who lives in the house caught Stewart after he walked through the backyard gate and tried to take a red 10-speed. The man fired a double-barreled shotgun and fatally wounded the boy, who died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police arrested a 54-year-old man after the shooting. Edward Day has been charged with first-degree murder and a weapons violation.

I would have shown far more restraint in using my shotgun than police say Day did. But I'm not patting myself on the back for it. We all have a breaking point. For most of us, it's different from that man's.

Nathaniel Hurt, who served time for fatally shooting 13-year-old Vernon Lee Holmes Jr. for vandalizing his car in 1994, had a breaking point lower than most. Or was it simply that harassment from teens caused him to reach his much sooner than we've reached ours?

Hurt was 61 when he shot Holmes. Albert Sims was 78 when he killed 15-year-old Jermaine Jordan in 1998 during an incident similar to the Hurt-Holmes shooting. In both killings, the elderly men claimed they had been victims of unabating teen harassment.

According to an article by Sun reporter Del Quentin Wilber, Day told police teens entered his yard and stole his property several times.

But as in the Hurt and Sims cases, the voices of condemnation you hear will be against the men pushed past their breaking point, not against the atmosphere and mindset of permissiveness that enables teens to commit multiple offenses, only to be released into the arms of their parents should society even take the trouble to arrest them.

The "proper" thing to do in the Stewart case would be to rail against guns and rant about how property should never be more valuable than human life. It would take a bold soul indeed to look at the facts in the Stewart case and ask: Dare we suggest some adult culpability here?

Perhaps this shouldn't be said in Marnice Cooper's hour of greatest pain, but police indicate Stewart was guilty of committing at least two unlawful acts: trespassing and attempted theft.

So Stewart may have broken at least two laws just before his young life ended.

You have to wonder if any of the lad's elders pulled the boy aside and told him, "You're not supposed to flout the law, son. You're supposed to obey it. Disobeying it leads to bad consequences."

It looks as if young Stewart has suffered the worst consequence of all.

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