Our view: Shooting death of Baltimore homicide detective a tragic reminder of the enormous debt this city owes its brave police officers.
A veteran Baltimore police officer who suffered a gunshot wound to the head while on duty Wednesday in a notoriously dangerous neighborhood in West Baltimore just a block or so north of the U.S. 40 canyon on Bennett Place in Harlem Park died early Thursday afternoon. A violence-torn city’s collective hearts and prayers go out to his family, to his friends and colleagues. Baltimore owes Sean Suiter a debt that can’t be repaid. The married father of five gave his life to make this city a better place for the rest of us.
The full details about exactly what happened that afternoon in Harlem Park have not been revealed, but from what police have so far shared, it appears the killer was cold-blooded and cowardly. The detective approached him on the street, and the man drew out his gun and fired. The shooting has prompted a widespread manhunt with cooperation from federal authorities, from neighboring police departments and a large award ($169,000 as of the moment) for information leading to an arrest.
We won’t mince words about it. There has been a considerable debate in Baltimore in recent years over the city police department’s tactics, training and its overall relationship to the community. The death of Freddie Gray in April of 2015 brought a great sense of urgency, and anger, to that conversation — as did a series of taxpayer-financed settlements given to victims of police violence and several departmental scandals. There has also been an uptick in homicides and other violent crime since Gray’s death and the protests that followed, but there have also been reforms within the department as well as community “ceasefire” events and other outreach efforts that have inspired a degree of hope. And so perhaps the best way to describe Baltimore at this moment is both weary and wary. Sometimes, it feels like a corner has been turned and the city is more united and more resolved to fight crime; sometimes — as with this terrible shooting — it does not.
People who live outside Baltimore sometimes mistakenly assume that police in this city are widely hated. That’s simply not the case. The post-Freddie Gray protests were not an embrace of anarchy (as much as some criminals took advantage to loot and steal at the onset), they were a cry for a better relationship between law enforcement and the disadvantaged, predominantly African American communities where much of the city’s most violent crime takes place. Do things sometimes get testy in Baltimore when race, politics and crime collide? Yes, they do. But don’t mistake that for a hatred of police, not by a long shot.
In Baltimore, as is surely the case in every community, police are appreciated as the keepers of law and order, the guardians of civilization, the men and women who put their lives on the line so that the rest of us may be safe in our homes. As word of the police shooting spread, our leaders at the city and state level have stepped up and spoken with one voice. From Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, to Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat, they have pledged their support for the victim’s family, for police officers generally and for tracking down and prosecuting the shooter. At this moment, we are united in thought and deed. We stand as one.
There are times to argue over such matters as how to fund police pensions or how best to negotiate contracts or how to deal with juvenile offenders. There will always be disagreements over policy. That is just the nature of the beast. But don’t mistake that as a lack of respect for law enforcement. We know that police who err get far more attention in the media than those who valliantly do their jobs well. Take, for example, the Officer Angel Villaronga who talked a seemingly suicidal man into dropping a knife he was waving around in attempt to prompt police to shoot him. That encounter, captured on body camera video last month, is must-see viewing for every Baltimorean. It was heroic — but not surprising to those who know this city’s police officers.
And yes, it should not take a tragedy for these truths to make their way into print on this page. But there is an 18-year veteran of the police department who died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center Thursday afternoon, and all should recognize that we, as a city, mourn Detective Sean Suiter’s passing — and stand with all those who nobly follow his path.
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