City needs to reverse a culture of death

June 03, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

I entertain a strange and ridiculous thought while sitting for a moment in the District Court of Maryland, Baltimore Division, listening to a handsome and well-tailored police detective describe a young man's botched attempt at murder by handgun last month in the city: Couldn't we get Dr. Benjamin Carson, the esteemed neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, to rewire some brains? Wouldn't that help reduce the homicide rate?

As I said, strange and ridiculous. ... Excuse me.

Here we are in June, approaching the halfway point of the year and the edge of summer, and I must be going through my annual fed-up Baltimorean thing. Fed up with the idiocy and the violence, the guns and the thug-think in the streets of a city that has so much going for it and could be so much more than it is.

I have strange and ridiculous thoughts, among them the wish that changing the attitudes and behavior of the young men who do the shooting and the killing could be as simple as brain surgery.

Here we are in Courtroom No. 6, at the District Court building on Wabash Avenue. The judge is Nancy B. Shuger. She's presiding at a hearing in the case of a skinny 19-year-old "man" accused of shooting at a teenager at 1:30 in the afternoon of Thursday, May 3.

That's broad daylight in this part of the world.

Police say the suspected gunman, Audie Mickens, wore a paintball mask over his face and arrived at the scene, in Northwest Baltimore, by Monte Carlo. The gunman fired but missed his intended victim, who ran away unharmed, thus avoiding the city's growing homicide rolls for 2007.

According to the detective who investigated this nonfatal shooting, two .45-caliber bullet casings and one live round were found at the crime scene. The gunman's clothing was described in detail by witnesses. They even identified the shooter's shorts by their well-known designer brand.

The shooting apparently stemmed from some stupid, teenage beef at a city high school.

Once upon a time in America, teenage boys did not settle their differences with guns. I'm not saying that teenage boys back in the day - and by "back in the day" I mean only about 30 years ago - were any less idiotic than some teenagers are today. It's that, back in the day, when they resorted to violence to resolve their issues, they were more likely to go mano a mano, use their fists - not guns.

Guns are for cowards.

And drive-by cowards are even worse.

But we have a lot of that in Baltimore.

A lot of idiotic and violent teenagers.

And too many guns.

After the botched shooting May 3, officers of the Baltimore Public School Police helped officers from the Northwestern Police District locate the suspects and the Monte Carlo, and they had little problem doing it, too. (Apparently, the young men involved in this escapade were well known to the school police.) Detective Wayne Williams, the shootings specialist who testified at Friday's hearing, said police recovered three paintball masks from the trunk of the Monte Carlo, and, when apprehended, the 19-year-old suspect wore clothing that matched the description given by witnesses.

After listening to the evidence, the judge set the case for trial in Baltimore Circuit Court.

I sit there, listening to these proceedings and wonder, as I have so many times before:

How do we ever reach the young men who reach for guns to settle their problems?

How did they ever get so cavalier about shooting and killing?

How do we get them to value life?

How do we change the behavior before it's too late? Many suffered because of parental failure; they grew up surrounded by poverty and criminality. Our juvenile justice system was probably the last, best hope for them, but that system still fails too many times.

This problem is complicated. The answer is not as simple as magically rewiring brains.

I hold in my hands the charging documents in the case of Christopher Ford, born on Nov. 13, 1989, which means he will turn 18 later this year.

He is accused of murdering Neil Rather, born Nov. 30, 1988, which means he would have turned 19 later this year.

On Tuesday, just before 3 p.m., broad daylight in this part of the world, Ford allegedly shot Rather on a parking lot in the 3400 block of Clifton Ave. in the west side of the city, in the Walbrook area.

The first police officer at the scene found a .38-caliber handgun next to Rather's body. Rather died about an hour later at Sinai Hospital.

The charging document indicates that Ford simply went into a nearby apartment and waited, alone, for police to arrest him. Later, in the homicide unit at police headquarters, detectives advised Ford of his rights.

"Christopher Ford admitted to shooting Neil Rather whom he knows as `Pill,'" wrote Officer Joon Kim. "Christopher Ford then gave a taped statement telling your writer that he shot Neil Rather during an argument over a $20 debt."

Sick of the street? Get a job. Men and women with criminal records who need assistance finding jobs or job training should contact Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166 or at dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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