Justice mocked again

July 26, 2002

PROSECUTORS DIDN'T show for the hearing, and neither did the cops, so the judge at the bail hearing for alleged gunman Perry Spain was faced with an impossibly difficult decision: follow the law and set a low bail, or stretch legal interpretation to make a point.

And so Perry Spain waltzed out of jail Wednesday after making $35,000 bail, and went right back to the neighborhood where witnesses say he shot 10-year-old Tevin Davis in the neck. A 10 p.m. curfew is the stiffest penalty he'll suffer now; it's nothing compared to the terror Tevin and the witnesses must feel at every moment.

Sadly, that's what justice looks like in Baltimore these days. Lots of heart-breaking crime, little in the way of tough response.

As usual, there's plenty of blame being passed around for this mystifying gaffe. The problem is, that blame rarely translates to responsibility. No one steps forward to shoulder the burden for keeping kids safe, taking killers off the streets or rounding up the weapons that are as common as blue crabs in Baltimore.

No one says they'll do whatever it takes, for however long is necessary, to reintroduce civility on Baltimore's streets.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy showed up on television Wednesday to unveil a litany of excuses for her office's absence at the bail hearing. Cops didn't tell prosecutors they'd made an arrest, she said, so they didn't know about it.

Huh? This was one of the most high-profile shootings of the year, a horrifying incident that came to symbolize the victimization of city children. Prosecutors should have been bird-dogging every development in this case; it wouldn't have been unreasonable for Ms. Jessamy herself to show up at the bail hearing, just to make a point.

Police performed no better. Officers routinely find time to testify at traffic hearings, but somehow, no one was available to help make the case against an alleged child-shooter? Again, why wouldn't police higher-ups have been all over this case?

Mayor Martin O'Malley is right to seethe over this incident. If police and prosecutors can so handily botch a high-profile case, chances are they're also fouling many, many others that nobody notices.

As the one city leader who's unabashedly spending political capital railing about this issue, the mayor is understandably frustrated by others who instead duck and run for cover. No doubt, his call for citizens and business leaders to get involved has political motivation -- but it also reflects a justifiable lack of faith in city leadership.

What Mr. O'Malley needs is what the city, its residents and especially its children need. They need those responsible for reining in violent crime to do their jobs -- or get out the way to let someone else do it for them.

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