Listening to Malcolm Majer's story about the kids who threw sticks and stones at him the other day, I was impressed not so much with his complaint — about the length of time it took a police officer to respond to his call for help — but with how Mr. Majer decided to confront and counsel the kids who had attacked him.
He did what few adults would have had the guts or temperament to do these days: He spoke to the kids, he chastised them, he went parentis on them. I give him props for doing so. Lesser men would not have spoken up, either out of fear of escalating violence or in the cynical belief that, in the city of Baltimore, a 10-year-old who throws rocks at a stranger is already a lost cause.
Mr. Majer, an artisan with a metal fabrication business on 21st Street, lives near Mondawmin Mall. He likes to ride his bike to and from work; the trip takes him through Druid Hill Park, through parts of Hampden and Remington and down the trail along the old Falls Road.
Here's how he described what happened Tuesday afternoon:
"On my way back to work from lunch at home, I was riding down the trail, approaching the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, when a group of 10 children, boys and girls from the ages of about 9 to13, ordered me off my bike and attempted to get me to dismount by throwing rocks at my head and swinging sticks at me as I went by.
"One rock hit me in the forehead, so I stopped a little ways away from the children, told them I was going to call the police, and dialed 911. I told the operator I was near the streetcar museum, 1900 Falls Road, and I followed the group of kids while waiting for the police to show up."
The kids were carrying bathing suits. All were in T-shirts and shorts. They walked north on Falls Road toward Wyman Park Drive and appeared to be taking a shortcut to the public swimming pool in Druid Hill Park.
Mr. Majer called 911 again. Again he was told police were on the way.
"At 45 minutes in, a police car finally arrived, and I made [the officer] aware of the situation. He took down my name and address and we went our separate ways. By this time, the kids were probably enjoying their day in the pool …"
Mr. Majer contacted me, as well as a couple of city council members, because he was upset that it took 45 minutes for him to see a cop. He has a point, although Mr. Majer's location shifted as he waited for police, and the intersection of streets in that area can be confusing.
But police response time is not the whole story here. It's what Mr. Majer left out in the first telling that's worth noting — that he stayed on his bike behind the children, and he spoke to them as they walked.
"I understand kids being kids," he said, "and I only have a bump and a scratch on my forehead. But I guess I wanted to do the adult thing and let them know this was not acceptable behavior, that they live in a place where laws apply, and that there are laws against what they did. I was hoping the police would come, I guess, to scare them."
Of course, the police didn't come right away. So Mr. Majer kept the kids in sight. Some told him to stop following. Some dropped a profanity on him. But he kept the conversation going.
"One of the boys said, 'I didn't do anything,' and I said, 'Well, tell your friends what they did was wrong. And, by the way, it's not OK for you to stand by and let your friends throw stones at somebody.'"
Mr. Majer kept talking and finally, somewhere along Falls Road, three of the kids said they were sorry for what had happened and they shook his hand.
Ten days or 10 years from now, none of this might matter. But there's always a chance that what Malcolm Majer did and said left an impression — if not with all, at least with some. And in Baltimore, with too many children who grow up in poverty and an atmosphere of violence, kids need all the help they can get.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM. His e-mail is email@example.com.