Another innocent victim of the slaughter, another memory desecrated

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

December 10, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

The drug dealers swarmed around Tiffany Square.

"Kill Bill, middle of the block," came the clarion call from the man in a blue winter cap and tan coat, slinging heroin named after the blood-thirsty movie of a revenge-bent killing spree.

"Down there, the car at the light," one of the spotters yelled toward a customer.

This scene isn't from 1991, when 6-year-old Tiffany Smith, playing with a doll, was struck in the head by a stray bullet fired during a shootout between rival drug dealers, the start of a decade of drug violence from which the city has yet to recover.

This was yesterday at 11:30 a.m., around a triangular patch of land where Bloomingdale Road crosses Westwood Avenue and Rosedale Street. Tiffany was killed here 17 years ago in July, and an outraged community named the spot in her honor. A red sign still stands with the name, "Tiffany Square."

They planted a tree, enclosed the dark soil in a ring of tiles painted with sayings such as, "God is love." Her picture still hangs there, her tiny face in silhouette, her playful braids prominent.

Tiffany would not die in vain, the neighbors, the politicians, the police, the activists, all said back then.

Today, the spot is desecrated.

We lost another little boy to violence this week. Ronald Jackson, 14, was shot as he stepped out of his West Baltimore rowhouse to deliver two grapefruit to an elderly neighbor across the street on Myrtle Avenue. Another life lost doing an ordinary deed.

A month ago, on a Friday, we mourned Markel Williams, a 15-year-old boy stabbed to death outside a middle school. Three days before that, on a Tuesday, we mourned Steven Graham, a 14-year-old fatally shot in Brooklyn. Two other 14-year-olds have been killed this year, among the 25 youths slain before their 18th birthdays.

We can't remember the names anymore.

We confuse the circumstances.

I remember the haunting images, captured long after the small bodies fell to the pavement and detectives had abandoned the latest blood-stained address synonymous with death:

* The pile of clothes in an empty parking space in back of William H. Lemmel Middle School, under a banner, "Great Kids, Great School," where Markel was fatally stabbed.

* Precious Johnson standing on East Oliver Street in 1993, fingering two bullet holes in the cap her 10-year-old brother Tauris had been wearing when he was caught in a shootout between drug dealers while tossing a football autographed by Johnny Unitas.

* The juice bottle lying in the doorway that 2-year-old Carlos Woods was trying to retrieve when he was hit in the head and wounded by a stray bullet in 2001.

* The cup 13-year-old Shenea Counts had paid a quarter to fill with ice from a corner bar on a sweltering night in 1999, moments before a stray bullet took her life just steps from her home.

* The barbershop where James Smith III, age 3, was getting his first haircut when two drug dealers seated on either side of him opened fire in 1997.

Now we can add another image to this horrific and unfortunately incomplete tally: two yellow grapefruit resting on the marble steps of a rowhouse on Myrtle Avenue, three splotches of blood on the sidewalk, symbols of a good deed ending with a wasted life.

The people said Tiffany wouldn't die in vain, but the drug dealers who have claimed the square built in her memory say otherwise.

We mourned for Tiffany, for James, for Tauris, for Carlos, for Shenea, for Markel and now for Ronald. And for all the others who have died and for whom space is simply too short to contain their names. We build monuments and hold funerals and promise to never forget. We shout rhetoric and promise to do better.

We failed Tiffany.

Let's not fail the others.

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