Charm City Debates Clerical Abuse Guidelines

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"Don't drive a car in Paris," HG Wells allegedly said, "because the temptation to run over a priest would be too great." He should have moved to Baltimore, where a jury on Monday acquitted 26-year-old Dontee Stokes of attempted murder and assault in the shooting of Father Maurice J. Blackwell, erstwhile pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church. (The shooter was convicted on lesser weapons charges and will most likely get off with a combination of time served and house arrest.) Stokes, Blackwell's former altar boy, accuses the priest of abusing him for three years, starting when Stokes was 14. Interestingly, though, New York Times reporter Jayson Blair writes this one up as a racial issue, with scuttlebutt that a predominantly black jury was "motivated by the defendant's race and their animosity toward the police, prosecutors, the Roman Catholic Church and other predominantly white institutions." (Assailant and victim are both black.)

Wiley Hall, executive editor of The Afro-American, said support for Mr. Stokes was most likely connected to a sentiment that institutions have failed many blacks.

"There is a general sense that the police are not responding, the prosecutors are not responding and the drug dealers own the streets," Mr. Hall said. "And then here comes this kid who was abused, and he turned to the police and the prosecutors and church for help, and they would not listen. And then finally someone, Stokes in this case, took justice into their own hands."

That's an understandable reaction in a city where the cops leave even their narcs to be burned alive by drug dealers. But what's struck me about this story throughout has been the presumption of Blackwell's guilt. Even the Times, I recall, referred to Stokes as a "victim" when first reporting the shooting. And dig WBAL's reportage of jurors' comments:

Jurors told WBAL-TV the testimony of Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler, on behalf of Stokes, made little impact on their decision. What was more significant was the refusal of the victim, the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, to testify.

Alternate juror Carlton Summers told WBAL-TV the jury felt Blackwell was only looking for sympathy.

"I think he showed up to get the sympathy of the jury, and then he plead the Fifth [Amendment] and walked out," he said.

Maybe there's more compelling evidence against Blackwell than I know of (a second accuser has come forward recently, resulting in Blackwell's suspension), but there should be some benefit of the doubt, particularly for a guy everybody agrees has been shot.

Meanwhile, WBAL's comments page suggests Blair is right in saying Charm City is "split" over the verdict. "The justice system has failed!!!!!!! What does this say about our society to let a man take the law into his own hands????" asks Tinaann. "They should give Stokes a medal!" counters Jeff Warrington.

NEXT: Troubled Utopia

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  1. The Crabtown police didn’t ALLOW anything arson-related to happen. The victims were offered police protection, even a witness relocation kinda deal, but said no. (http://www.sacobserver.com/news/103102/revenge_arson.htm is the top google link for this story).

    Baltimore has enough problems without having to deal with aspersions cast by snot-nosed ex-sucksters who won’t take the 2 seconds required to get the facts right on a horrific crime that killed six.

    Where the hell did you find Gulfmercury anyway?

  2. David,

    That’s “Guelph” Mercury, and you’ll see that the story is not original to them, but an AP story which is saved on their site.

    Maybe offering to let the family leave their home and live under an assumed name is your idea of an offer of protection, but the lack of police presence in the area was a major element in the controversy that followed this horrible crime. Certainly, the Dawsons’ neighbors, who jeered police dispatched to guard the smoking remains of the Dawsons’ home, believed the cops hadn’t done enough while the family was still alive. Even the pull quote in the Sacramento paper you cited reiterates this point:

    “This family took a stand. They saw those ‘Baltimore Believe’ ads and tried to do what the police told them. Fight back. They did that, but it don’t look like they got any help. They came under attack and had to stand alone. And now they’re dead.”

    I am duly chastened by your characterization of me, especially as it comes from a self-described “extremely fast typist,” but I doubt my aspersions are adding much to Baltimore’s already heaping plate of troubles.

  3. “There is a general sense that the police are not responding, the prosecutors are not responding and the drug dealers own the streets,”

    The drug dealers own the streets because the people living on those streets let them.

    The institutions have not failed the people, the institutions have delivered exactly what they always have.

  4. There was continuing coverage of this story on WJZ TV here in Baltimore tonight, which consisted of Stokes’ mother basically ignoring the FACT that her son had gone to confront Blackwell with a gun in his pocket, and ended up shooting him. She was entirely convinced (as can be expected) that Blackwell is guilty, and repeatedly said that ‘the’ criminal is getting away with it.

    If Blackwell did it (and WJZ mentioned that there are no charges, and scant evidence that he did), then he should be prosecuted. But these are 2 different crimes, and the time spent between them only exacerbates the difference. It really doesn’t mitigate Stokes crime that this happened 10 years ago. Therefore, I think the jury verdict is pretty appalling.

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