Fear should paralyze city's criminals, not its neighborhoods

July 21, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

BALTIMORE police say 19-year-old Perry Spain shot 10-year-old Tevin Montrel Davis last Monday night and sent a bullet through the boy's neck that discharged through his mouth.

Tevin was rushed first to Bon Secours Hospital, where he was in critical condition immediately after the shooting. The most recent reports indicate he is in good condition at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and will recover - physically, at least - from the incident.

Spain's attorney, Warren Brown - who, with Dontee Stokes and Edward Day as clients will probably be working 22-hour days for a good while - says Spain was not the shooter. The youth was arrested Wednesday afternoon in front of his home, which is in the same block of West Fairmount Avenue as Tevin's.

Mayor Martin O'Malley publicly excoriated neighborhood residents who kept silent for two days before Spain was arrested. Police Commissioner Ed Norris hinted that anyone who had knowledge of the shooter and kept it from investigators should have trouble sleeping nights.

It's estimated that about 40 people may have witnessed the shooting and the moments immediately preceding it. According to some of those witnesses, four men emerged from a Jeep Cherokee and walked to a corner on the block where a craps game was in progress. The Jeep quartet exchanged angry words with the game's participants and, within moments, the bullets were flying.

Some have reacted to the remarks of O'Malley and Norris about community apathy with suggestions that, with police protection available to them 24-7, it's easy for these two guys to talk. Less frequently mentioned is the fact that even with such a high number of witnesses a reliable identification of the shooter is not a lock. Indeed, it might be a hindrance.

Ask 40 different people to describe the same sequence of events, and you might get 40 different versions. For every witness the state produces who says Spain was the shooter, Brown might be able to produce one who swears he wasn't.

Then there's the omnipresent fear factor: The folks who didn't eagerly sally forth and finger the shooter may have been afraid of retaliation, not apathetic. It's easy for the mayor and police commissioner to urge people to come forth with information and cooperate with investigators. Norris may figure - and rightly so - that folks who didn't give information should have trouble sleeping nights. But, for some of them, at least, sleeping permanently was more their concern.

We tend to think of fear as a bad thing. It has often been used in this country for some very heinous things. White mob terror after the Civil War led to the destruction of Reconstruction governments and to quasi-slave status for America's black citizens. Fear was used to keep African-Americans in that status.

Fear causes black communities in 2002 to let drug dealers, addicts, street thugs and petty gamblers come in and take over either corners or entire neighborhoods. The civil rights movement rid us of the terror that kept blacks in quasi-slave status. African-Americans need a new movement to reclaim our communities. To do this, we may have to use fear to our advantage.

Yes, it's time we made the drug dealers, the stick-up boys, the drug addicts, the rapists, the burglars, miscreants and thugs who make our lives miserable afraid of us, for a change. They've terrorized us, so let's return the favor. There's no way Tevin Montrel Davis would have been shot Monday night if the trigger man - whoever it turns out to be - actually FEARED swift retribution for the deed.

There's a soul food restaurant in Pimlico that doesn't have need of those bulletproof plastic partitions that so many stores in that community have. That's because the restaurant has a sign clearly posted letting potential robbers know off-duty cops work there as security. No plastic partitions are needed. Fear serves as the barrier to criminal acts.

Fear has been known to have a paralyzing effect. Let's use that to our advantage. Let's use fear to freeze the actions of the hoodlums, to give them pause and put them on notice that the next criminal act may be their last before hard jail time, serious bodily harm or death.

Does this mean we should condone vigilante violence and that black citizens should form mobs with a lynching mentality to go after criminals? No. We should never get to a lynch mob mentality.

But we should get darn mad.

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