Baltimore needs light of reverends to shine here


December 02, 2006

Open letter to the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton:

Gentlemen: I've read with interest and some begrudging admiration about your recent involvement in protesting the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell in Queens, N.Y., last weekend. Although I've strongly disagreed with both of you in the past -- and have written things about you that, at best, might be described as unkind -- I find myself on the same page as the two of you about this incident.

New York undercover police fired at least 50 shots at a car Bell was driving. Bell, 23, was the father of two. He and his friends had just "bounced" from a strip club because they felt trouble was brewing. Bell, who was to marry his high school sweetheart later that day, felt he didn't need the drama.

According to New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly, witnesses heard Bell say, "Let's be out. I'm getting married. I don't need this."

He didn't need what happened after he and his friends were "out," either. In what appears to be a situation that went from bad to awful to terrifying and tragic in only a matter of seconds, cops pumped more lead into Bell's car than FBI agents used to bring down John Dillinger back in 1934. But Dillinger was Public Enemy No. 1 at the time. Whatever else has been said or written about Bell, no one has said he was anything close to Public Enemy No. 1.

So both of you have protested his death. You've led marchers to the site of his killing. You, Reverend Sharpton, have nobly avoided playing the race card and proclaimed that Bell's race and the race of the two men wounded by police fire (two blacks and one Hispanic) is irrelevant.

You, Reverend Jackson, have called for cooler heads to prevail and have urged people to avoid acting irresponsibly. Those remarks are a welcome relief from the rantings of New York City Councilman Charles Barron, who has dropped not-very-veiled hints that there might be violence in reaction to Bell's death.

Although that's just Barron being Barron -- the bilious, immature soul who four years ago proclaimed at a reparations rally that he'd like to slap a white person for his mental health -- you, Reverend Jackson, proved that you can be the level head when level heads are needed.

I admire what both you men are doing in the Bell case, and I have to say that -- and God, it kills me to write this -- I'm proud of you. And I hope that once you're done with that situation in New York -- cops who clearly don't know when to pump 50 rounds of ammunition into a criminal suspect and when not to -- the two of you will find your way to my neck of the woods.

I have a question for both of you: What makes Sean Bell's death more tragic or outrageous in your sight than that of Nicole Edmonds? You've never heard of Nicole Edmonds? Therein, gentlemen, lies the problem.

Her death was every bit as tragic, outrageous and unnecessary as Bell's. Her family is just as devastated by her killing as Bell's family is by his fatal shooting as a result of what appears to be an excessive use of police force. Here's how Nicole Edmonds, only 17, died:

She and her 16-year-old brother, Marcus, left their jobs at a fast-food restaurant in a Baltimore suburb and took the light rail home. After they got off at their stop in the city, two other teens followed them and attacked Marcus. Then they turned on Nicole. One of them is charged with stabbing her to death.

Her death caused shock and anger in a city where shock and anger are hard to come by. The only thing that was missing was a march by the two of you to the place where she was stabbed. And there are other sites you gentlemen might visit as well.

How about the bar where John P. Dowery Jr. was fatally shot? Dowery was a witness to a homicide who reported what he saw to police and agreed to testify. Condemned by some members of his own neighborhood for "snitching," Dowery fell victim to the "stop snitching" credo that is sucking the life out of this city.

You gentlemen should use that incident to start an "anti-stop snitching" movement. (A local man, Cornell Dews, already has T-shirts you could wear. They read "Stop Lying.") It was the "stop snitching" mania that helped lead a man named Darrell Brooks to start the 2002 fire that killed all seven members of the Dawson family. It sure would have been nice to see the two of you leading a march to their home then. But it's still not too late.

Or you could go to the Baltimore County park where 15-year-old Quartrina Johnson's body was burned. Quartrina was strangled two years ago to keep her from testifying against a man charged in the statutory rape of her younger sister. At least four young black men were involved. I still remember one saying on a police videotape that one of his accomplices was a "punk, snitching-ass nigga."

More black people are killed by this "stop snitching" mania than are killed at the hands of police. You two need to start a movement against "stop snitching." Baltimore is the place to start.

Hope to see the two of you soon.

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