Dixon the mayor, teacher and mother mourns another young life lost

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

November 22, 2008|By PETER HERMANN

On the Friday of American Education Week, Baltimore's mayor found herself inside a city middle school, addressing teachers in the gym and then students gathered in a hallway.

Sheila Dixon should have been celebrating a week dedicated to learning. Instead, she was helping students and teachers mourn. Outside William H. Lemmel Middle School near Mondawmin Mall, a 15-year-old student had been fatally stabbed behind the building, next to an adjoining charter school.

Police officers lined the street in front of Lemmel and had cars, emergency lights flashing, at every intersection around the corner on Gwynns Falls Parkway, where two other schools emptied out. A police helicopter circled overhead. Enough police cadets to fill two vans arrived to help search for evidence.

And once again the mayor of a city struggling to curtail violence - yet pleased that the murder total has dropped this year compared to last - was forced to address a recurring theme. "I'm saddened at the loss of this young life," she told reporters on the sidewalk outside the school's entrance, draped with the "BELIEVE" banner and another sign that read, "Great kids. Great School. Where the real winners are." At the end of a statement that has become a mantra for her and mayors past, Dixon retreated from being the city's chief executive and assumed a title she had earlier in life - that of an elementary school teacher - and one that she still has - the mother of an eighth-grade student.

Her son is about the same age as the young boy who was stabbed yesterday afternoon, and Dixon's spokesman, Ian Brennan, said the mayor understands that "these boys are no different than her son."

Dixon told reporters: "All I can think about is my son." She noted that "we have to provide the support that they need."

A few minutes later, Dorothy Fordbey pulled up to the school to pick up her 13-year-old great-granddaughter, who attends the ConneXions Community Leadership Academy that shares the building with Lemmel. Fordbey said that last year she pulled another great-granddaughter, 16, out of Lemmel because she thought it was too dangerous.

"The kids were always fighting and throwing things," said Fordbey, who is 85. "It's the gangs. One gang wants to prove something to another gang and so on." She was wearing a shirt with a picture of a young child with a halo over her head. Above were the words, "Guardian Angel."

"I've been guarding angels all my life," she said with a smile before pulling away.

Dixon, the teacher, the mother, the leader of a city filled with troubled youths, has made children a recurring theme in her public comments.

Earlier this week, the mayor met with a group of students from the Walbrook Homeland Security Academy who had complained to me during a recent visit about bad conditions, fights that disrupted learning and crime. And last month, Dixon threw away prepared remarks on the anniversary of an East Baltimore firebombing that killed seven people after a member of the family had complained about drug dealers.

She had heard a parent discipline a child by saying she wanted to bust a head and another tell a child to shut up, and the mayor took the stage and admonished the parents.

"We need to bring peace to their lives," she said. "They see enough violence."

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