For anyone who knows me or reads this blog, it’s no secret that I’m kinda fascinated by crime and murders and stuff. If you are wondering why, well I guess it’s because of books that my parents had on the shelves when I was a boy. One of those books was, “Death of a President” written by William Manchester which was about the JFK assassination. The other was Vincent Bugliosi’s recounting of his prosecution of Charles Manson and his followers, “Helter Skelter”. I couldn’t stop flipping through those books as a kid. There is one other reason that I find this bad stuff so interesting; I’m from Baltimore.
I came of age when Baltimore, historically a violent city, started going off the charts with murders and this horrible reality became a heavy yoke for the Baltimore Police Department to carry and led to Baltimore being THE city that folks think about when they think about murder. I can recall that it was even documented in an early issue of SPIN magazine, years before David Simon’s seminal work, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets”.
I’m very close to getting off topic, so, for “Fun” here is a photo of Vincent Bugliosi.
I’m writing this blog entry because I wanted to tell everyone about a book I’m reading, called “Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore”. It’s written by former Baltimore Homicide Detective, Kelvin Sewell & investigative reporter, Stephen Janis. In the book, Sewell provides summaries of some of the more insidious cases he’s worked. Some of the cases were fairly famous and easily recalled by me. He was the lead detective on the murder of former Baltimore Police Commissioner, Leonard Hamm’s, daughter. I mean, welcome to Baltimore, where even the highest ranking police official isn’t free from the web of despair that homicide casts. Before I go any further, here is the cover of the book.
The author does a good job of making the reader aware of something that is more troubling than any criminal mastermind, snatching lives and confounding citizens and authorities. Kelvin Sewell lets us know that most murderers in Baltimore are people that lack any kind of empathy whatsoever. It’s hard to read. No one wants to think that the city that they live and work and raise their families in, is populated by a considerable number of humans that have never had their socialization and empathy buttons turned on. Reading the book, I can’t help but recall Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus”; a work that is distinctly a treatise, warning against the physical and emotional abandonment of children. But in our case, it’s not only the ill-equipped parents(if there even are two parents)that play the role of Dr. Frankenstein; it’s our entire community that just wasn’t ready for the industrial economy to collapse. Our community wasn’t ready for the onslaught of cheap heroin. Sewell notes that the drug game has replaced the industrial base as employer and lifestyle provider. I would also note that Baltimore has such a virulent racist past…and present, that our economic woes further marginalized an already marginalized population.
Detective Sewell also notes that the Baltimore Police Department has had and probably still has problems with racism within its’ ranks. He offers instances of policy and procedure decisions that just don’t make sense. Comically, the BPD has a history of using white undercover officers in black neighborhoods to try and apprehend drug offenders. He notes that they literally “stand out like a sore thumb”
It is a good read and I recommend it. As a matter of fact, Kelvin Sewell and Stephen Janis appeared on CSPAN Books, talking about the book from Atomic Books. So it’s really cool that the nation got a chance to see my favorite bookstore in Baltimore. Here is a still of their appearance.
And if you are keeping score, I used the word “book” four times in the previous sentence.