Sad facts point to a suicidal generation

September 13, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Charging documents in the case of Brandon Green and Jerome Whitaker, arrested this week in the killing last March of a promising Patterson High School student-athlete, instruct us in the suicidal behavior of a generation of Baltimoreans.

Who they are:

Young, angry, violent, gun-toting males engaged in some sort of dispute, nature unknown, or gang ritual.

What they use:

A Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver and a .380-caliber Bersa semiautomatic pistol.

What they do:

One simply stands on a sidewalk on Cliftmont Avenue in Northeast Baltimore at 8:30 of a Thursday night in mid-March.

The other comes down an alley, steps to the sidewalk and opens fire.

The first pulls a gun from his pants and returns fire.

Some of the working-class residents happen to be standing or sitting on their porches as the shots ring out -- 12 from one gun, at least six from the other.

What happens next:

The student from Patterson, headed home after working at a nearby Burger King and stopping in the neighborhood to visit a friend, gets caught in the crossfire. His name is Christopher Clarke, one of his generation attempting to beat the odds.

Bullets hit him in the upper body.

Clarke collapses in the street.

One of the shooters takes a shot to his right leg and runs down the alley, then into a car driven by a buddy. The buddy drives the wounded shooter to the emergency entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The second shooter suffers a graze to the left side of his face.

Someone calls 911.

Police officers and Medic Units 61 and 62 respond to the 3100 block of Cliftmont Ave.

Paramedics find the Patterson student, Clarke, under a car; he'd either crawled or fallen there.

They take him to Hopkins, where he is pronounced dead, 43 minutes after the shooting. He was just a teenager.

"You were, to me, the embodiment of limitless potential," one of his teachers writes in a tribute to Clarke in the school newspaper.

He was "an amazing young man, a natural leader," says his lacrosse coach.

The second shooter, the one with the face wound, goes to the same hospital. A doctor treats him and releases him.

A city homicide detective named Juan Diaz arrives at the crime scene. He and another detective, Sgt. Leonard Willis, look around.

They find a bloody trail in the alley, and the trail leads to a black jacket, a bandana, a bloody plastic bag and the Bersa semiautomatic pistol.

"Found in the locked position," Diaz notes in his report, "suggesting someone had fired all the bullets and then discarded the firearm."

Farther up the alley, the detectives find the .44 Magnum, a bloody paper towel, a bloody black T-shirt and a bloody sweat shirt -- plenty of opportunity for DNA samples.

Names, or nicknames, of suspects start floating about. But no arrests are made.

Meanwhile, his family and friends mourn and bury Christopher Clarke.

"He was so different; he didn't belong in the gangs or in the drug life," the Rev. Romency Blackwood, pastor of Clarke's church, said in his eulogy. "The church has lost a young man who would one day be a great leader. ... A woman has lost a husband who would have character and strength ... and a child has lost a great father. All this was lost."

The lost generation of Baltimore.

His Patterson teammates dedicate their spring lacrosse season to Christopher Clarke.

"One-two-three, rest in peace, Chris!" they shout as they prepare for games. Six months go by, and Diaz at last makes his case for arrest warrants.

Police go out Tuesday morning, the day of the city primary election, and arrest Brandon Green, 22, and Jerome Whitaker, 23, charging both with first-degree murder, second-degree assault, first-degree attempted murder and handgun violations.

A third suspect, police say, is believed to be in residence at Central Booking.

All praise to the cops who work these cases -- there are so many of them, day after day, week after week, boys and young men settling scores with guns, or arguing over drugs with guns, or committing robberies with guns, or performing gang initiations with guns.

It's insane.

It's generational suicide.

Here are some numbers in the year so far, provided by the Baltimore state's attorney's office:

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 12, there were 18 killings of juveniles in the city of Baltimore.

Three victims were 15, six were 16 and nine were 17.

All but one were black.

All but two were male.

In the same period, there were 79 nonfatal shootings of juveniles, some as young as 13 and 14. All but one were black.

All but eight were male.

In all of 2006, there were 85 nonfatal shootings of juveniles, and 28 homicides.

At the current pace, 2007 totals will surpass those numbers.

And the numbers do not include the 18-year-olds, like Christopher Clarke, or the 19-year-olds, or those in their 20s. But that's where the greatest amount of violence occurs, among those born to black women between, say, 1983 and 1992. These boys and young men seem determined to reduce their own numbers.

It keeps happening up the road in Philadelphia, too, a city headed for an even higher homicide total than Baltimore this year.

"This generation of young black men is not at risk," Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick Jr. wrote this summer, "it is at war with itself, and heaven help anyone who steps into the line of fire."

Like Christopher Clarke, rest in peace.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Ex-offenders -- adult or juvenile -- who want help finding employment or job training can call columnist Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166 to request an information packet. If leaving a voice message, please provide a telephone number and mailing address.

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