We all share responsibility for failing the Dawson family

February 19, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

JUST PAY IT.

That's what Baltimore officials should do with the $14 million the surviving members of the Dawson family are demanding because, in essence, the city failed them. Just pay every penny of it and try not to fail anybody else as woefully as we failed Angela Dawson, her husband, Carnell Dawson, and their five children.

This week, surviving members of the Dawson family filed a lawsuit that named as defendants a host of people: Mayor Martin O'Malley; members of the City Council; the Police Department; former police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and acting Commissioner Leonard Hamm; State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; one of her assistants; police officers yet to be named; and the governor, although it's unclear whether that means former Gov. Parris N. Glendening or current Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Ehrlich was only running for the office on Oct. 16, 2002, the day Darrell Brooks set fire to the Dawsons' home and killed seven people. It was Glendening who was in the governor's mansion and who should be named as a defendant. But the folks named in the suit shouldn't take this weight alone. In a way, didn't we all fail the Dawsons?

Believing in Baltimore's "BELIEVE" campaign, the Dawsons made more than 30 calls to police about drug dealing in their neighborhood, some of which took place in front of their home. Members of Jessamy's staff say their office offered to move the Dawsons after their house was firebombed two weeks before the fatal fire. Some surviving Dawson family members have disputed that claim. But it doesn't matter.

Neither Angela nor Carnell Dawson should have faced the option of being run out of their neighborhood by drug dealers. For once, can't we force drug dealers, thugs, stick-up boys, muggers and other assorted reprobates to leave? Make the hoodlums move. Don't force law-abiding citizens to move.

What Brooks and other chronic lawbreakers needed - especially after the Dawson home was attacked the first time - was a tough Baltimore cop who would jump in their faces every time they set foot outside their doors. Someone who would tell them, "I've heard you've threatened the Dawsons, and every time you hit the streets I'm gonna be all over you like sand on a desert." Someone like, say, a Robert Quick or a Barry Hamilton.

In case those names don't ring a bell, Hamilton and Quick are the two officers who were assigned to an eight-man squad fighting street crime in East Baltimore. In October of 1999, they chased Larry Hubbard - a self-described thug - after he bolted from a truck the officers suspected was stolen.

During a struggle, Quick shouted that Hubbard was going for his gun. Hamilton fatally shot Hubbard in the back of the head. Because Hamilton and Quick are white and Hubbard was black, the inevitable ensued: charges of murder and police brutality, followed by a $60 million lawsuit.

Hubbard's family got $500,000. Hamilton and Quick got months of grief in which they were called murderers and racists. It was one instance where some people in Baltimore saw a chance to choose up sides between the police and the criminals, and chose the criminals.

At the time of his death, Hubbard was wanted for failing to appear in court. Had he been in jail, he'd be alive today. Had Brooks been in jail, where he should have been, on Oct. 16, 2002, so would the Dawsons.

Brooks had a string of criminal charges in his past that included armed robbery, assault, theft and drug possession. He was on probation for a gun charge the night he poured gasoline into the Dawson home and set it ablaze. It had been months since Brooks had reported to his probation officer.

Brooks could have been in jail on the gun charge, but we couldn't find it in our hearts to give him the time. He could have been in jail for violating his probation, but we perhaps were still distraught over what happened to that fine upstanding citizen Larry Hubbard after his unfortunate encounter with Officers Hamilton and Quick.

There's a war going on between criminals and law-abiding citizens in Baltimore, and some of us don't know which side to choose. Yes, we want criminals off the street, but heaven forfend we lock up too many black men. Yes, we want effective policing, but cops who use deadly force to defend themselves had best hop that train or plane to another city.

It is thanks to such waffling that Brooks found himself out of jail and with a bone to pick against the "snitching" Dawson family on the night of Oct. 16, 2002. His presence on Baltimore's streets isn't the sole fault of those named in the lawsuit. We're all to blame. That's why there's only one thing to do with that demand for $14 million.

Just pay it.

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