Braylin Finney, left, 15 months, is left fatherless after his… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
Tuesday morning in a coffee shop, I heard someone wonder why Brandon Finney, the Shock Trauma surgical technician who was shot to death Sunday night, had been standing near Lexington Market at such a late hour. What was he doing there at 11:30?
The question suggested that anyone who ventured after hours near the city's historic market — notable for fresh fish and produce on the inside, and too many drug addicts on the outside — must be either up to no good or asking for trouble.
But the answer, it turns out, was simple: Brandon Finney had been waiting for the bus.
That's what most people do in Baltimore — the working, contributing, responsible people, that is, as opposed to the losers who degrade and debase the city with their guns and cowardice, with stupidity and recklessness.
Finney had been at the intersection of North Paca and Saratoga streets, a few blocks north of his place of employment at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He had just come off his shift.
The MTA runs at least five bus routes through that area. Until he was killed — caught in the midst of a gang shooting and used as a "human shield," according to police — Finney had been one of the many workaday Baltimoreans who, sometimes or all the time, take the bus. They are often dressed in scrubs or a uniform, standing in the glow of street lamps, waiting for the No. 7, or the 15, or the 40.
Late at night, early in the morning, they sometimes have long waits for long rides to work and to home, before and after long shifts. A lot of them are low-wage workers who cannot afford a car.
So here's a man, 25 years old, standing on a street of his hometown, waiting for a bus. He's a contributor. He's employed in a place that's world-famous for saving lives. Finney has a child. He's engaged. He's saving his money for a Camaro.
And what happens?
According to police, a couple of losers come along, two guys who belong to the Black Guerilla Family, the notorious gang whose members continue to suck the life out of Baltimore.
There's gunfire, and Finney, caught or pulled into the middle, dies along with a 20-year-old member of the Bloods, the apparent target of the bullets.
Two suspects have been arrested.
Of course, we're supposed to care about the young Bloods member who died as much as we care about Finney. That's our obligation as human beings — to understand the dreary lives of young men who can't resist the allure of gangs. But it's hard, let's be honest, especially if you've been around this city for a while and have grown disgusted with our protracted recovery from the epoch of drugs and violence.
When does it stop? When does Baltimore get to take two steps forward without being dragged one step back?
A decade ago, we had a police commissioner who suggested that murders were isolated to particular groups of people and to certain neighborhoods. It was generally true, but the commissioner's statement implied that a certain level of violence would have to be tolerated, that one part of Baltimore could go about its business while another part — young men involved with gangs and drugs — fought it out.
But that's just not acceptable. It leaves too many people who live close to the action in danger.
Last month, we had the death of a little girl in Waverly, McKenzie Elliot, killed by a stray bullet fired by some idiot in a daytime gunfight. Just before that horror, we had the death in Park Heights of 20-year-old Devin Cook, the community college student and lacrosse player shot in the car he had worked two jobs to buy. Cook was a bright light, according to all accounts. He had coached lacrosse at a city charter school and had volunteered to teach special-needs students to play the game.
Now we have the Brandon Finney story.
Dr. Thomas Scalea, who runs Shock Trauma, and Karen Doyle, the center's vice president for nursing, put out a joint statement:
"We are heartbroken by the loss of a member of our Shock Trauma family, Brandon Finney. Our life's work is to try to save the life of every patient who comes through our doors. It's always very difficult for us when a life is lost. It is especially wrenching when we lose one of our own.
"Brandon played an important role in helping many members of our community in their greatest time of need. We honor his memory by supporting each other and his family as we mourn this extraordinary loss."
Those are good words. And they're correct: Finney's death is heartbreaking.
But it's also infuriating.
Been such a long time now, and so many deaths. We can't give up, can't become dreary and complacent. We have to stay angry, have to demand safer streets for the people who take the late bus, the early bus, for everyone.
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.