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A. Robert Kaufman

Sam Holden

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 10/5/2005

A. Robert Kaufman looks better than he has any right to, sitting in his wheelchair in his room at the Future Care Nursing Home in Charles Village. On June 13, the perennial local political gadfly, marcher for civil rights and social justice, and candidate for public office was bludgeoned and stabbed in the neck by a tenant of the West Baltimore apartment building he owns and lives in. Though he was nearly killed, four days later he called a press conference to announce that he is still running for U.S. Senateóand to call, again, for a socialist revolution so that Baltimore and America will stop producing the kind of men who stab their 74-year-old landlords for no apparent reason. Shortly thereafter, Kaufman returned to the emergency room with a massive infection and spent more than a month in a coma. Now recuperating at Future Care, Kaufman is clean-shaven and clear-eyed, though his bald head is dented and a gauzy bandage doesnít fully conceal the gash across the left side of his neck. And he remains a consummate ideologue; his socialist analysis (some might call it dogma), honed and repeated through six decades of political activism, leads him to forgive and seek to understand his alleged attacker, even as he concedes that the man, Leon Henry Davis, must be taken off the street so that others will be safe.


City Paper: What happened to you?

A. Robert Kaufman: I rent rooms in the house I live inóI live on the second floor. The rent is $400óthat can include gas, electric, plenty of hot water, a television set, a VCR, a microwave, and a small refrigerator, and they share a very large kitchen and a bathroom with a closed shower with four other roomies.

Itís a very desirable, clean place, and I ask $400 a month for it, plus $400 security deposit. The guy had the rent but not the security deposit. I let him in anyway.

So the new month comes around, he brings these tools around, and says ďCan you give me $20 for these?Ē I didnít have a particular need for them that I know of, but I gave him the $20. Then he comes up, I think, a day later, and says he needs another $20. So without hesitation I loan him another $20. Then he comes up a day later and asks for another $20, and this time I said no. So about three hours after that he comes up and says, ďLook, all I have is $300, would you take it.Ē I said sure, and I went to the kitchen to get my ledger book. As Iím turning the pages of the book I feel this [taps the reporter on the head]óonly a hell of a lot harder. Heís hitting me with a crowbar.

CP: A crowbar? How big was that?

ARK: [Kaufman holds his hands about 16 inches apart] A crowbar with a nub on it, so itís used as a hammer. Iím looking down on the receipt on the table. This guy is trying to kill me. I dive out of the kitchen and into the dining room, under the big table there. Iím kicking him as best I can.

CP: Right, and now he canít get good leverage to bash your head anymore.

ARK: He canít hit me in a vital place, either. I said, ďThis is ridiculous, you want money, Iíve got more money in the middle room.Ē I tell him where it is, and he goes to get it. I hope that thatís going to give me enough time to get out and escape, but I couldnít do it. I found that when I tried to stand up I was too dizzy. He comes back and says, ďI canít find the money,Ē so I said, ďIíll show you.Ē The fightís over, heís got the money, he wins. So I turn around and he stabs me right in the neck.

CP: He had a knife, too?

ARK: It was . . . it was the [crowbar]. I just grabbed [the wound], ícause I donít want blood spurting out, and he left and I went after himóand I want it clearly understood what I mean by tható

CP: You mean you left after he did, not that you were chasing him down.

ARK: Right, yes. To get helpósomeone to call 911. And they did, and they took me to the ER. It was just like the movies.

I stayed [in the hospital] three or four days and they released me. I got out and held a press conference. While I was in the hospital I received dozens of letters, phone calls, get-well cardsófrom people I didnít even know. ďBob, we love you,Ē and all of that. But whatís [my attacker] gonna have? Heís going to spend his life behind bars. I know what thatís likeóitís happened to me for a night, a dozen times or so. What life is he ever gonna have again?

What he did he did, if I can believe him, for altruistic reasons. He had told me he was a heroin addict. He said he could go to rehab any time he wanted, he told me he had his sister and his nephew living with him, and he wanted to get his sister and his nephew off the streets where he found them.

This was something he didnít do because he thought it outóor if so, it was the worst thought-out thing anybody ever did. He knows heís gonna get caught one way or another. He didnít have his job anymore. He had no options. Sitting before him was a white Jew that presumably represents, in his mind, the class enemy. And if he was gonna go, heís gonna take someone else with him. Thatís the only thing I can figure out. When the cops later interviewed him, he said heís got nothing against me. Iím a nice guy.

CP: You told police that you did not know the name of your attacker. Why was that?

ARK: Iím not particularly good at remembering names. I have nine tenants. I said I donít want to get too involved with these folks, cause whenever I do it costs me more money. So I like to have a little bit of a separation. This is the underclass, in large measure. If theyíre showing me that theyíre not, and theyíre responsible and whatever, then I donít mind getting closer.

CP: You told your attacker that you didnít believe in guns. But you do, donít you?

ARK: Yes. At one point [during the altercation], he told me I could get a gun and shoot him. So I lied to him and said I donít believe in guns. But I donít have any.

CP: Why?

ARK: Iíve been there since 1972. That ought to be long enough without ever being attacked. Usually when people attack you, they just want your money. Because they want to buy heroin.

Iíve had guys pull guns on me twice and a knife on me once. The first one was a gentleman. He came to the door and says, ďI have a package for Mr. Kaufman,Ē and when I opened the door he said, ďAnd I also have a gun,Ē I said, ďCímon in, donít stand out there in the cold,Ē and so he did and we had a nice conversation.

CP: You invited him in after he showed you the gun?

ARK: I got the impression that he was not going to hurt me. With this [latest attacker], I did not have time to go through my Quaker manual of how to respond [nonviolently] to someone who is trying to kill you.

CP: So you were in the hospital for a few days and were released, and then you had to return to the hospital? Why?

ARK: People noticed that I was not responding to things. Someone called 911, and thatís when my sister intervened on my behalf. And that was so surprising. . . . She did for me what I never anticipated her doing. We were not close. We were not close. It was over the issue of whether she cared for me. . . .

CP: Why did you have to go back to the hospital?

ARK: My guts hemorrhaged, and I blew up like I was pregnant.

CP: What was wrong?

ARK: Youíll have to ask my doctor. I was told there were three major and five minor operations. I was put into a drug-induced coma. I was unconscious for five weeks and three days.

All this has delayed my intervention in the senatorial election. . . . I will register. Someone is investigating whether I can do that by mail. My sister had kept a calendar of all the events.

CP: What would justice look like for your attacker?

ARK: We should get as much of the truth out of him as possible, and he should be examined by a psychiatrist. What he did was not rational. He should be sent to a guarded mental hospital until there is good enough reason to believe he wonít do this to anybody else.

CP: What are the chances of that?

ARK: Well, heíll getóheís got a court-appointed lawyer and they tend to be worth what theyíre paid.

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