Another promising Baltimore youngster has lost his life to violence; what are we going to do about it?
[Published in The Baltimore Sun on July 20, 2010. See www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-crowder-20100720,0,307036.story]
By Douglas M. Schmidt
5:17 PM EDT, July 20, 2010
John Crowder, playing for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel High School, was a special and feared presence on the basketball court. He was not demonstrative or overbearing — but there were moments when, at 6 feet, 8 inches, he could control a game, from rebounding to blocking shots to scoring. He was the single player who could beat your whole team, so you had to defend him with all that you had.
John had “the gift,” and he was one of the rare young people who had learned to harness it and play team basketball. John had support from teammates, coaches, teachers and parents of the dozens of players he played with at Mt. Carmel and on the elite teams of Baltimore. He was smart, friendly, big and sometimes goofy. He had a winning smile as well as a vulnerable side that made people want to care for him. But as he entered the turbulent times of his late teens, he lost too much of that innocent magic and turned toward the siren song of the streets of Baltimore.
In the early hours of July 5, John was found in a yard in northeast Baltimore, dying of a gunshot wound.
John had a lot going for him, including a coveted pathway to a “D-1” ( NCAA Division I) basketball program. You can ask any boy in any Baltimore basketball camp, and he knows exactly what “D-1” means. It’s the ticket up and out. Yet, with all that support and potential, John was missing many of the essentials in life. His mother died of cancer when he was 2 years old. His father was nowhere to be found. In their place, he had a series of caring, well-meaning relatives, coaches and school communities whose collective care for John was ultimately overwhelmed by the irrational risk-takings of a teenager who wanted, like all teenagers, to answer to nobody.
Anyone who has raised a teenage male to maturity knows that despite all our best efforts, there are failures. Failure on the streets of Baltimore is magnified and deadly. Compulsive youths are armed with weapons. In a flash of anger from an immature brain, lives are ruined and lives are taken. As one distraught mother who knew John said, “I have quit asking about the tattoos. You can’t ask. ‘This one is for my brother who was murdered.’ Some of these boys grow up with death and they don’t have a long view of life.”
I had to give my son the news by telephone. “No way. No way. That can’t be,” he protested. He is the same age as John was — 17 — and had played against him.
Try to remember yourself as a teenager. For the rest of your life, you will never forget the local high school sports stars of your era, just as you will never forget your few classmates who died young. The long church services, the sobbing family, the homilies aimed at making you understand what made no sense to you. As you age, those who died never do. All your fading memories and impressions become encased in a yearbook picture that smiles at you across time.
When we lose a teenager, it affects us all. Our God and our Prophets admonish us to care for the young, the weak, the sick and the poor. Whether we are religious or not, this is our heritage, and we judge ourselves by how well we take care of those among us who are less fortunate. The murder of a teenager is an unwelcome mirror that exposes the sham of our claim to civilization. Scores of our youth are lost each year to the streets or death — and it is our shame that we tolerate it and that we do not turn this city upside-down to protect them.
Last week, there were many parents and coaches who grieved for John and who thought that if they only knew then what they know now, they could have done something more to save John from his fate. But it is never so simple as personal heroics. John’s slide was long in the making, and many tried to intervene and failed. Even if John had been saved, what about the next teen — and the one after him?
So throw out politicians who give lip service every four years to education and fixing Baltimore. Demand that schools serve your children and not the needs of adults. Give police everything they need to drive the drug culture off the streets. Support every teacher, preacher, coach, social worker and Scout leader who will show youth the path to success.
But dispense with the object lessons and hollow warnings to teenagers. Better that you should get angry. Get angry at every pointless death. Be enraged that a teenager can die of a bullet wound on your city streets.
Because nothing good comes from the murder of a teenager — nothing — and we should not pretend otherwise. It is lesson that we do not need to learn, and it is repeated daily in some city in America. John had friends, he had family, he had a future, he had a soul. He deserves more than to end up an example, as if he were to blame for the streets that claimed him.
There is no turning back the clock and fixing this for John. There is only what we demand of the future that saves the next teen.
Douglas M. Schmidt is an investment banker and a father and lives in Towson. His e-mail is email@example.com.
Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun