A voice as sad and as tired as the city

August 02, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

Monday evening, after numerous politicians and a few ministers had delivered their speeches about violence in the city of Baltimore, John Eden took me to the spot where his friend — "He was more than my friend, he was like a brother to me" — died a lonely death some time last Thursday night or Friday morning.

We went to the side entrance of The Ark Church, and John Eden said to look through the glass doors, to the wooden slat fence that runs along the walk to Aiken Street.

"You can look, but I can't," he said. "This is the first time I've been back here since they found his body. Look along that wooden fence on the left. You see the gate?"

There was a wide wooden gate in the fence, slightly ajar, a padlock hanging off the handle. The gate led to a paved rear yard and old wooden steps that ran up to a patched-together porch outside the rowhouse apartment where Milton Hill lived until last week.

"When the police got here," John Eden said, "that's where they found him. The gate was wide open, and I saw his body leaning on his left side. I can't look down there."

Just then a woman came up the alley and placed by the wooden gate a dark brown teddy bear with a heart ornament dangling from its neck.

Eden's voice was as tired and as sad as the city of Baltimore, weary of all the violence, through all the years, and all the foolish wasting of life. There have been several homicides in the city in just the past two weeks. One of the victims was the Johns Hopkins researcher, Stephen Pitcairn, stabbed to death in Charles Village while walking home on a summer night. A few days later, 70-year-old Milton Hill was found shot to death along the fence by his church.

In one week, we lost a young white man who wanted to work toward a cure for breast cancer and, fewer than 20 blocks away, an elderly black man who did a million little good deeds.

Last night, politicians and pastors summoned citizens to a vigil at the church, and there were all the usual demands for Baltimoreans to help the police solve crimes, to take back the streets, to stand together across racial lines and economic class — "Forest Park to Roland Park," one of the ministers cried — to end the city's epoch of violence.

John Eden was one of the few speakers who had not been elected to public office. He did not express ideology or provide bold ideas about fighting crime. He just spoke, in that sad and tired voice, about what loss really means — loss of a good man, loss of a friend.

When he prays, Eden told the crowd, he asks God to take him back to the day before his friend's death and "back to all the days we spent together."

They took care of things at The Ark Church ("A Church Pressing For The Mark of a High Calling"), with Hill living in the apartment next door, and Eden just a few minutes away.

Last Thursday afternoon, Hill trimmed hedges around the side entrance of the church, then he and Eden went to a rowhouse owned by the church to install new kitchen faucets for the tenant.

"That was the last thing we did together," Eden said softly. "We were supposed to meet here Friday morning, then go to Home Depot to pick up locks for sliding windows. But when I arrived at the church, the police ushered me through …"

They took him to the side entrance of the church and the wooden gate where his friend had been shot to death, apparently by someone who wanted Hill's scooter. The scooter, Eden said, was a "peculiar color green," and he and his wife went looking for it. They looked on side streets within a few blocks of The Ark Church. They didn't find it. But the police did.

The police commissioner, Fred Bealefeld, angrily announced that to the crowd gathered Monday night on North Avenue, at the front entrance of The Ark, and people reacted with outrage and anger.

If he was angry, Eden did not show it. Perhaps he was too sad. The two friends were born 29 days apart, with Eden always reminding Hill that he was the younger of the pair.

"Ah, we're just two old men," Hill had said.

"Well then," Eden had answered, "we're blessed."


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