Profiting from pain

January 10, 2003

NO AMOUNT of money will bring them back. There is no paycheck vast enough to fill the void left when an arsonist silenced the laughter of five children and their parents.

In death, Angela and Carnell Dawson and their children achieved heroic status: The media have carried their name to the corners of the Earth, the city has invoked it to galvanize support for anti-drug campaigns and community involvement. Rallies and vigils were held, a book fund was started at the children's school, millions in federal aid were secured for the community, a park was dedicated. Now the vultures are circling.

Celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran and his staff have put Baltimore on notice that they'll be seeking a settlement for the Dawsons' relatives because the "Baltimore Believe" campaign encourages residents turn in drug dealers. Outrageous. They also have blamed police for not doing more to protect the family on East Preston Street; police say they offered to move the Dawsons, who declined. Police also stopped by the rowhouse to check on them.

The surviving Dawsons' pain and suffering cannot be assigned a price tag, but that isn't stopping some relatives from trying. No one would begrudge them a call for a full investigation to put to rest any questions on whether government negligence played a part in the deaths. It's acknowledged, for example, that the alleged arsonist had violated probation -- if he'd been in jail for that, the Dawsons might be alive.

And we can imagine that the outpouring of private donations and government aid to institutions, including millions pledged to the "Believe" campaign, sadly might be disproportionate to the gifts directed to help the Dawsons' three surviving children (two are out of state). What became of the fund established at Bank of America to help the surviving daughter in Baltimore, an 18-year-old who was pregnant at the time of her parents' death?

This is about money, not justice or the harmless Believe program. Johnnie Inc. is on a fishing expedition. (And we hope it's a pro bono expedition, Johnnie.) Take care, or the family's brave and noble choice -- to stay on East Preston Street despite a clear danger they could see -- and their good name could be tarnished, compounding the tragedy of Oct. 16.

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