For the third time in a month, 18-year-old Curtis Deal had been arrested on gun or drug charges. Judge Nicole Taylor wanted to be sure the young man understood what was expected if she released him to wait for trial.It's good she raises her voice, because then we know she's serious.
"You're not going out at night, you're not going to get food, you're not going to meet your girlfriend. You're in your house," Taylor told him at Monday's bail review hearing, raising her voice.
"I'm giving you an opportunity to go to school and not be in jail pending this trial. The curfew is 1 p.m., 7 days a week."It's important that judges wish luck to the fellow who commits a felony every week.
Deal said he understood. Taylor wished him luck.
The next day about 3 p.m., Deal was fatally shot by a Baltimore police detective after allegedly jumping out of a vehicle being tailed by officers and fleeing through the same neighborhood where he'd been arrested the week before. Police said the detective chasing Deal shot him because he feared for his own life. The officer's body camera captured Deal pointing his gun at the detective just before the shooting.You gotta love the word "perceived."
Almost immediately, the circumstances of Deal's release became a flash point in the growing debate in Baltimore over perceived leniency for repeat gun offenders.
"It shows dysfunction, I believe, in our criminal justice system," said Mayor Catherine Pugh. "People who have those many gun charges probably should not be on our streets."But you can't love the word "perceived" as much as the word "probably."
There's an old saying that, at some point, tragedy becomes farce, but this episode is not really either. It's ennui -- the same old stuff we've heard before from the city that wanted to give arsonists "space to destroy," then filed a bunch of charges against six police officers -- to convict not a single one on any of them.
Not that conviction was really the point. Intimidating the police through a grandstanding, ideologically-driven prosecution was the point, and the point was made.
Not that it's a Baltimore problem in particular, either. It's just that Baltimore seems to have been more eager (and more "successful") than average in putting into action the central notions of sentencing reform and, more broadly, the movement for greater leniency: That the problem is not crime, the problem is our reaction to crime. That it's not the defendant's greed or malice, it's his "mistake." That anti-social behavior is not perverse; incarceration to incapacitate and deter that behavior is perverse.
This time, it was the criminal himself who went to the morgue. It could just as easily have been the officer (as it would have been had he hesitated). Or a bystander.
Increasingly, it's all of them. The number of homicide victims has seen a significant rise in the last two years, as sentencing reformers crow about their "achievements" in changing state (if not federal) law over exactly the same period.
Still, hey, look, if the prison population goes down, it's all to the good -- even if the morgue population goes up.