At cops and kids softball game, tension subsides

Children from the Northwood Baseball League and Baltimore police officers play softball during a Family Fun Day. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)

In what was perhaps a first for either party, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby pinch hit Saturday for Police Commissioner Kevin Davis when she threw out the first pitch during a softball game between cops and kids.

Previously, it had been announced in a news release issued by the Northwood Baseball League that Davis was scheduled to throw out the opening softball at a game between the young players and officers assigned to the nearby Northeastern Police District.

That, however, was news to Davis; police spokesman T.J. Smith said there was a misunderstanding and that the commissioner's office never received an invitation to the event.

So Mosby did the honors while officers looked on.

An observer unfamiliar with Baltimore's history during the past two years would not have guessed at the tensions during the past 16 months between city prosecutors and police. It was Mosby who brought criminal charges against six Baltimore officers in connection with the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, after the 25-year-old man's spinal cord was severed during a ride in a police van.

After three officers were found not guilty by Circuit Judge Barry Williams, Mosby's office dropped charges last month against the remaining trio.

And just last week, the Department of Justice released a 163-page report documenting years of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city.

But though the temperature Saturday afternoon neared triple digits, no one seemed hot under the collar.

Was it awkward for the state's attorney to attend the game, which was intended to foster better relations between police and community residents?

"Not at all," said Mosby, who was accompanied to the event by her 6-year-old daughter, Aniyah. "It's really important to engage and empower our youth. We're in this battle together, and we're on the same side."

Maj. Richard Worley, commander of the Northeastern District, echoed the prosecutor's sentiments.

"We're on the same team," he said. "We're all here for the kids."

A few miles away from the softball field adjoining Morgan State University, St. Frances Academy was sponsoring a similar event: an anti-violence youth basketball showcase.

Marques Dent, chairman of Northwood's board of trustees, said he thought up the police-kids softball match six years ago. He noted that there's only two weeks before classes resume for Baltimore public school students. Athletic events such as these, he said, help the kids start off the school year on the right foot.

The softball game was the culmination of an afternoon-long slate of activities that included a parade, a distribution of free school supplies and raffle tickets for Six Flags America.

"We have to make sure that our community has an opportunity to engage with police officers in a positive way," Dent said. "Holding this event helps to heal wounds and build trust."

Three brothers — B.J. Jones, 13; Eric Jones, 12; and Darrick Jones, 11 — had been looking forward to the game, even though they don't technically belong to the baseball league.

"My cousin is a police officer, and I really want to stay positive about the police," B.J. said. "Sometimes, the police do things that aren't good. But other times, they help people."

Though the kids capered around the diamond as though it were a brisk autumn day, it wasn't easy for the large, sweating adults to run, leap, catch and slide under the blazing sun.

But, Worley said, the effort pays dividends. Playing ball helps his officers get to know the kids, just a little bit. They may run across each other another day on the street, or while tutoring in the schools. They may exchange smiles or a wave of the hand.

"We're people first," he said, "and police officers second."

After the first inning, Sgt. Marlon Harty, announced over a microphone that the score was three to nothing — in favor of the kids.

"The police aren't looking too good right now," he said. "But I have a feeling we're about to make a comeback."

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