Before an angry crowd last night distrustful of the Baltimore Police Department, Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm attempted to allay community concerns over the arrest of a 7-year-old boy for riding a motorized dirt bike and the later arrest of his mother.
Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the city branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, invited Dixon and Hamm to Union Memorial Baptist Church to address a packed room. Some in the crowd held signs proclaiming, "Is a motorbike a weapon of mass destruction?" and "Arresting a 7-year-old is police brutality." Cheatham expressed regret that the crowd of more than 100 was at times "disrespectful."
"They needed this opportunity to vent," Cheatham said. "They needed to say to the commissioner: 'These things need to be dealt with.' This is just a microcosm of the anger in the community."
Much of the anger was directed at police for the March 13 arrest of a 7-year-old boy for driving a dirt bike - an incident that has attracted national attention.
Dixon has apologized, but the criticism of the Police Department grew after the arrest last week of the boy's mother, Lakisa Dinkins, 31, who was charged over the weekend in a separate incident with hindering a police investigation.
The city state's attorney's office said the case against the woman was legally insufficient to proceed, though documents filed shortly after the woman's arrest show prosecutors abated the case by arrest.
"[The officer] was allowed to arrest a 7-year-old. ... So why are our black elected officials allowing this sin?" asked Willie P. Davis, 66, of Windsor Hill. "Why don't they step to the plate and do their thing. [Councilwoman] Mary Pat Clarke does hers. [Dominic] "Mimi" DiPietro looked out for his people when he was in office. He wasn't articulate, but he looked out for his people. When are we going to get this type of service from our people?"
Dixon, who was heckled and often cut off when attempting to respond to criticism, said, "I'm not going to even respond to that because I think my 20-year record speaks for what I've done. ... I'm not even going to elaborate. ... People have their perceptions and that's fine, because I have my perceptions."
In an interview afterward, Dixon said the tenor of the discussion indicates that city government and the police need to communicate better with the public.
"There's a lot of angry people who have a distrust for our officers, and it's imperative that our officers get back in the community and gain their trust back.
"I'm not offended by some of the anger and the disrespect that I got in that room, but what bothers me is that people don't understand sometimes the political process, so that's why I try to encourage people to get involved," Dixon said.
Daren Muhammad, who identified himself as chairman of the Community Forum Think Tank, which has protested the mother's arrest, asked Hamm: "When you look at what happened with that little baby at 7 years old, a kidnapping by these officers, and then a subsequent arrest [of his mother], and try to spin it and cover it up, and now attempt to intimidate this family, how can those officers still be on the force when they're nothing more than thugs in blue uniforms? I'm saying to you as a black man, how could you not have the badges of those men?"
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