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Third Eye

Everybody's Crying Mercy

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 1/28/2004

South of the murky waters that frame Harbor Hospital in Cherry Hill, there's a sea of brown public housing units lining Seagull Avenue, Bethune Road, and adjoining streets. If there was a national flag for poor or low-income folk, you'd find a big one here, flapping high above barbed-wire fences, abandoned buildings, an overrun city dump, and the incongruously clean property of an adjacent Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness.

Though bleak, the area has plenty signs of life. Outside occupied housing units sit many a rusted charcoal grill, sheets freeze-drying on clotheslines, and playground equipment and picnic shelters deserted only until spring. At 8:30 a.m. on a weekday morning, those signs of life include moms ushering bundled-up kids off to school, while other residents share morning cigarettes huddled curbside. At 7 p.m. on Jan. 16, those signs of life included a little girl being raped by a man who, it seems, simply slipped back into the brown sea.

A thin shred of the incident appeared in the City Digest section of the Jan. 20 Sun, which reported that an 11-year-old girl, returning home from a candy truck, was snatched by a man who dragged her to some trees on the 900 block of Seagull Avenue, "forced her to the ground and sexually assaulted her." The report describes the man as black, in his 20s, wearing a black skullcap, a black jacket, brown Timberland boots, and brown sweatpants with a white stripe--not much to go on, except the girl "told police that she remembers seeing someone walk past at the time of the assault."

In the world of As Cherry Hill Turns--an urban-flavored radio and theater drama produced by Baltimore comedian Howard G that used to air Friday mornings on 92Q--the pedestrian might have heard rustling in the trees, gone to investigate, and, strength or weapons providing, beaten the pervert to a pulp. But this bitter incident took place among a cluster of lives that, for myriad reasons, have gone materially, socially, and emotionally awry.

In other words: You wonder if the person--close enough for the girl to spot--really heard or saw nothing, or mistook a child's unwilling body for a consensual one, or simply chose to close what had to be lying eyes. After all, while tragedy befalls youth in this city almost every day, it's a rare citizen who'll place him- or herself in harm's way to intervene, choosing instead to rationalize crimes and their underlying causes.

For instance, when 15-year-old twins Brian and Paul Wilson shot and killed 20-year-old Quwanda Thornton at a bus stop on York Road last November--reportedly because she refused their sexual advances--tongues wagged about the politics of inner-city violence and aggression. And if there was comfort to be taken by the victim's family and citizens, it lay in the obvious fact that the duo would doubtless get maximum prison sentences during which time, justice prevailing, they'd repeatedly drop their soap.

And remember the 2002 beating and starvation death of 15-year-old Ciara Jobes? The very idea that her guardian, Satrina Roberts, was mentally ill had child advocates demanding an accounting from social service agencies, not to mention how sharp questions were raised about why school officials let the girl's constant absences go uninvestigated. Jobes' death, everyone agreed, could and should have been avoided. In death, she served as yet another poster child in the struggle for agency reforms.

Similarly, the inexplicable shooting death last summer of Walker Coleman--a 14-year-old eager learner and aspiring lawman who died at the hands of thugs in a playground--made folks grab their "Believe" campaign banners and T-shirts, to wave them high or burn them, either way. Coleman's death--though equally senseless as Jobes' or Thornton's--was easier to fathom given Baltimore's fast-and-furious rates of juvenile crimes using guns. (a 2000 report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms states that Baltimore youth ages 18 to 24 account for a hefty 33 percent of city crimes where guns were recovered).

A major difference in the Cherry Hill scenario is that the victim--whose identity is being kept private--is still alive, though her experience has probably given the girl, and those who love her, reason to wonder what's so good about that. But if someone stepped forward to identify the perpetrator, or even if concerned neighbors put the word out that ol' boy better be history--or else--it might help the child feel safer, if unable to satisfy a sweet tooth the same way again.

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Om (5/5/2004)
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