Killing of teen provokes questions about violence

Death: Crime is declining, but more youths die.

October 29, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was supposed to teach an English class yesterday at a Baltimore high school. Mayor Martin O'Malley and his police commissioner had called a news conference to praise the effectiveness of the city's crime fighting efforts.

Instead they all found themselves answering, and asking, questions about another city teenager who had been shot to death.

"Why the violence?" Ehrlich asked a classroom of Lake Clifton High School seniors.

In their responses, the students offered the governor rare insight into how violence, particularly the murder this week of a classmate, affects their perceptions of the city.

Raymond Savoy's killing Wednesday in an East Baltimore public housing complex was the 31st slaying this year of someone under 18. That figure for juvenile homicides eclipses last year's at this date and is higher than the total in either 2000 or 2001. Still, the statistic is representative of the persistent youth violence that haunts Baltimore.

Most juvenile victims are teenagers and most of those teenagers have lengthy criminal records, according to police.

But Savoy, 16, was an exception, Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said yesterday. He called Savoy's juvenile record "insignificant" and said, "He was just hanging out with the wrong people."

Savoy was walking about 4 p.m. Wednesday in the 200 block of S. Caroline St., near his mother's home, when a person came outside and pointed at him, the commissioner said. Another person appeared and fired several times at the youth known as "Ray-Ray."

"It was something they targeted him for," Clark said.

Detectives searched the Perkins Homes public housing project yesterday seeking witnesses. Clark said they learned the nickname of the suspected killer but need a witness to identify him.

The boy felled on the sidewalk was a well-liked sophomore at Harbor City East, a school in the Lake Clifton-Eastern high school complex, according to city school officials.

When Ehrlich made his scheduled visit to Lake Clifton High School yesterday, discussion of Raymond Savoy's death was inevitable. Students in a senior English class used their question-and-answer session with the Republican governor to ask about several issues before Ehrlich homed in on Savoy.

When he asked why violence continues, the students told him it was driven by jealousy, especially in the case of Raymond Savoy.

"He was a good person and he was funny and he had a lot of things going for himself," senior Latear McFadden told the governor.

"He was from the projects," senior Michael Nicholson said. "Whenever you come from a bad environment and you try to do something good, everyone tries to stop you."

Ehrlich asked the student how he says no to people who ask him to deal drugs or commit crimes.

"I've already seen the other side," Michael said. "I'm trying to see a different side."

What turned him around, the governor asked.

"My brother got killed," the teenager said.

"If your brother had not been killed would you still be out there?" Ehrlich asked.

Michael nodded "yes."

Hours later, O'Malley and Clark were standing before an array of posters that announced a record crime reduction. But while police statistics show a nearly 20 percent drop in violent crime from 2002 to 2003, the number of homicides increased. Murders are increasing again this year, and so is the number of juvenile homicide victims.

O'Malley declared that fighting crime remains his administration's greatest success and his greatest personal frustration.

"In a very real sense, he is a child of all of us," the Democratic mayor said of Savoy. "He is a child of Baltimore."

Added Clark, "Whether he's an innocent victim or not, a 16-year-old should not be getting gunned down on our streets."

After the news conference, Clark - a former commander in the New York Police Department - said Baltimore youths are exposed to a culture of violence that has subsided in New York.

As he has in the past, the commissioner complained about criminal suspects being set free. Back on the streets, those suspects have an adverse impact on impressionable young people.

"Everyone saw what happened to those guys [in New York]," Clark said. "They ended up in jail and fairly quickly. ... That doesn't exist here."

Clark drew a distinction between Baltimore street violence and the epidemic of student-set fires in city schools this academic year. Since September, there have been more than 40 fires in city schools and at least two shootings near school buildings - two teens suffered non-fatal wounds last week in one shooting. The fires have subsided this week.

The police commissioner said the school fires and nearby shootings are aberrations, but the street violence is chronic. He pointed out that outrage from parents, teachers and administrators helped slow the school problems for now.

"I wish there was some level of intolerance," Clark said, "to what's happening out there on the streets."

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