Stray people

August 05, 2002

THE SHOOTER will say he didn't mean to wound Tevin Davis, the 10-year-old boy who was shot near his front steps recently.

Tevin was hit by what was called a "stray" bullet, a bullet intended for someone else. For Tevin, of course, the distinction had no meaning.

The use of "stray" to describe the wounding and death too often associated with Baltimore's ambient gunfire tends to remove fault from the perpetrator, to minimize the crime. But anyone who fires a gun on a city street is saying he doesn't care who gets hurt or killed. The person who shot Tevin Davis might as well have been aiming at him.

"Hit by a stray bullet" suggests an accidental or inadvertent outcome, as if the shooter had no control, as if the bullet fired itself. The idea that misfortune can be blamed on an inanimate object lets a criminal off the hook.

This kind of wanton shooting goes on all the time in Baltimore.

Gernay Holley, 34, and Latoria Bowman, 12, were at the corner of North Gilmor and Baker streets when they were hit. Stray gunfire got the blame. Just their bad luck to be there.

At least they survived.

Michael C. Hargrove, 30, the father of three young girls, went to his front window to investigate a commotion outside. In the next second he was dead, a bullet in his heart. Mr. Hargrove may have been invisible to the shooter, and yet he was a target as much as any more considered victim.

When the shooter picks up his gun, he knows it's lethal. That's why he picks it up. And, increasingly, he seems willing, if not eager, to fire at the slightest provocation.

At Mr. Hargrove's funeral, the minister sought to ease the pain of a family in mourning. Why, he wondered, did such a person die? "We are left without answers."

With all due respect, this is not so. We have one answer: We know he was the victim of someone with no concern for anyone, perhaps not even himself.

Mannuel Carter, 29, was killed recently on Collins Avenue while trying to sell a sweatshirt. Police theorized his sales pitch "agitated" the people who killed him. He was shot repeatedly in the chest. One of the bullets hit Valerie White, 50, as she sat on her living room couch in a nearby house.

Carlos Woods, 2, survived after being struck in the head by a bullet in East Baltimore.

Tevin, philosophical and cheery after the ordeal, called his wounding "bad luck." His brave verdict may help him recover.

But the rest of us must hold shooters responsible. Bullets don't stray. People do.

If we don't demand responsible behavior, we give up the right to call ourselves a community. People don't have the right to fire guns whenever the impulse strikes - because they are aiming at us all.

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