`Dummy Up' is a familiar tune for officials in city lately

July 23, 2005|By Gregory Kane

HAVE YOU heard about the new song going around Baltimore? It's called "Do the Dummy Up."

Just think of these lyrics as being sung to the tune of the rap song "Lean Back" by Fat Joe and the Terror Squad. Except the singers in this case will be Baltimore officials.

We officials are real hip.

We just zip up our lips.

And do the dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

What officials are dummying up about these days is the handcuffing of parking control agent Donna L. Evans. On July 14, Evans wrote a ticket for a car she thought was illegally parked. The owner of the car claimed he had a valid parking permit. He complained to one of Baltimore's arrest-'em-first-and-ask-questions-later posse, who are more commonly known as the police.

The officer called a police sergeant, who ordered Evans to void the ticket. She refused. The sergeant ordered her handcuffed. Only the intervention of a police lieutenant prevented her from enjoying the accommodations of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center.

Evans told her side of the story to Sun reporter Gus Sentementes last Sunday. The next day, her supervisor ordered her to speak no more of the matter.

We officials are real hip.

We just zip up our lips

And do the dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Baltimore Police Department spokesman Matt Jablow said the only official cop response is that "internal affairs is investigating so we can't comment."

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

Dummy up.

What's behind the Harpo Marx routine that seems to have afflicted city officials? Could it be that someone might ask if Evans' handcuffing is the inevitable result of an arrest-happy Police Department?

I'll make it even plainer than that: Evans' handcuffing is the inevitable result of a policy, supported by our mayor and police commissioner, of arresting as many people as possible for even the pettiest offenses possible.

The policy is called "zero tolerance." Mayor Martin O'Malley, to his credit, said he would adopt the policy if he were elected, and he has definitely carried out his promise. But he was criticized for that policy even while he was running. So criticism of it now shouldn't surprise him.

Whatever benefits the policy has, we can't ignore the drawbacks. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani introduced zero tolerance policing during his administration and is credited with helping lower crime in the Big Apple. (Some critics say that the city's crime rate had started to fall under Giuliani's predecessor, former New York Mayor David Dinkins.)

But one of the results of zero tolerance in New York City was the bullet-riddled body of African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times by members of an "elite" police unit who couldn't tell Diallo's wallet from his gun.

Too much zero tolerance will lead to too many police officers viewing all citizens of Baltimore, not just criminals, as the enemy. That's the mindset that led to a Baltimore parking control agent being handcuffed. It's the mindset that prevents cops from telling that guy trespassing or loitering why he's got to clear the corner instead of arresting him.

Let me tell a story that couldn't happen in today's Baltimore, not under this mayor or police commissioner. Many years ago, I lived in the 100 block of E. Preston St. I wanted to take the bus to Northwest Baltimore to visit some relatives. Since I had to transfer, I figured I could take either the No. 21 or No. 3.

I stood on the northwest corner of Preston and St. Paul streets, to better watch for both buses. But neither bus stopped at that corner. An officer approached and asked me why I was standing there. I told him I was trying to catch one of two buses and where I was standing allowed me the best way to see both.

He explained that there had been a problem with johns picking up prostitutes in the area and that I couldn't stand on that particular corner. I moved. End of discussion. No problem. No arrest.

I couldn't do that today. I'd get hauled down to Central Booking and the offense would be "abated by arrest." Our fearless city leaders would swear the arrest was justified but only if I wasn't wearing a parking control agent's uniform. If I were, they'd simply dummy up.

"Donna Evans is a poster child for the sad state of affairs in the Police Department," said Warren Brown, Evans' lawyer. "If they can do this to her, they can to it to anybody. It's a great deal of symbolism involved in the mistreatment of Donna Evans."

Don't expect to hear our leaders admit that.

Not while they're singing "Do the Dummy Up."

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