Killing of Redskins' Taylor a familiar tragedy in this city

December 02, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Sean Taylor dies nearly every single day in Baltimore.

Tragic. Senseless. Wasted promise and stolen potential.

No, he's not usually a professional football player with an enviable bank account. But he is usually young, black and the victim of a crime.

Last Monday, in his Palmetto Bay, Fla., home, his name was Sean Taylor. At the exact time Taylor was shot by an intruder, in Baltimore, his name was Michael Crowder, a 33-year-old man who was found unresponsive not far from his Coppin Heights home. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

And two days later, his name was Quentin Reddicks-Flowers, a 31-year-old who police say suffered blunt-force trauma. And one day after that, his name was Ty'wonde Jones, a 13-year-old who had been stabbed to death.

All young. All black. All males. And all dead.

Today at football games across the country, the NFL will observe a moment of silence, and tomorrow in Miami, they'll bury Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins' 24-year-old free safety. All the while, in communities such as Baltimore, a much-needed dialogue will continue, hopefully with more passion and with more participants than ever before.

In death, Taylor quickly became a symbol. From Miami to D.C. to violence-ravaged communities such as Baltimore, his death has forced us to admit that while the violent death of a pro football player is certainly unusual, there are many Sean Taylors - though we normally prefer to ignore their stories.

Last year, there were 275 homicides in Baltimore, and more than 92 percent of the victims were black. (In 2005, there were 269 homicide victims, and 88 percent were black. And this year, though figures aren't yet complete, 90 percent of the city's 268 homicide victims are known to be black.)

Taylor's death, like so many others, is an extension of a genocide that includes nameless victims, faceless assailants and blameless conspirators.

And just who exactly are those conspirators? On one end, we have people who refuse to acknowledge that race is even worth discussing in deaths such as Taylor's; on the other, we have those who shrug their shoulders, look at the crime statistics and decide that it's not their backyard - or worse, doesn't include their race - and, therefore, it's not their problem.

To far too many, hearing phrases such as "black-on-black crime" is like an assignment of responsibility, a presumption that the epidemic is confined to a single race - and so the solution should be, too.

But it doesn't work that way.

"You can't just move out to a certain county, a certain suburb and the crime in Baltimore all of a sudden disappears," says Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, head of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I keep telling people if you don't get involved, it's going to keep growing and it's going to knock on your door someday. Why would you want to wait until then to do something? Let's get involved now and find a solution."

This year, Cheatham has taken to posting the city's rising death toll on the front window of the NAACP's office. It requires constant updating. By now, he's well-versed in the problem but concedes we're no closer to a solution.

We must stop fleeing Baltimore at 5 p.m. each workday and pretending life there ceases to exist when the sun goes down. Police alone won't stop the killing. Churches alone can't win the battle. Politicians already have showed their shortcomings.

"The only way we're going to get out of this is if we can all pull together," Cheatham says.

Can the death of a Washington football player, killed in South Florida, really bring about change in a city such as Baltimore? No, probably not by itself. But at the least, it should spark discussion.

Taylor's death was one of those news stories that grabs our collective attention. On baltimoresun.com, news of his death Tuesday drew 20 times more traffic than reports on the peace conference taking place down the road in Annapolis.

Hopefully, we can remember that there are many Sean Taylors.

"People are really just numb to what's going on," Kathryn Cooper-Nicholas says. "We get excited and pay attention when the murder is something outrageous - but still nothing ever changes."

In April, Cooper-Nicholas' son was stabbed 15 times in downtown Baltimore and suffered near-fatal wounds. Hoping to increase awareness and encourage discussion, she organized a group - Sisters Saving the City. She had hoped to attract 10,000 people to various Baltimore street corners for a vigil to meet, pray and sing. Only a few hundred showed up.

In Baltimore, awareness is no longer enough. We're plenty aware. Now it's time to show that we care.

In communities across the nation, we all have blood on our hands. Regardless of your race, your neighborhood or your bank account, we all must accept some culpability for allowing this culture of death to flourish.

Turning your head is akin to wielding a weapon, and if so many of us refuse to even acknowledge that we're connected to the problem, how will we ever make progress on a solution?

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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