Do you hate in a case like this?


I'M SITTING in court behind the victim's family on one side and the families of his attackers on the other.

This is the May 12 sentencing phase of the Pedro Lugo trial. Pedro Lugo, 24, is there, one paralyzed hand in his lap, hardly looking at the young men who, a full year ago, beat him into a coma with his own baseball bat -- apparently for no reason.

No reason. That's the aspect of this case that has troubled me since it hit the papers last May. Here was a vicious assault, not only unpremeditated but largely unmotivated even while it was happening.

These three unemployed, untrained, unhappy teens, who happen to be African Americans, powerless and displaced in their own neighborhood, carrying a lot of frustration around, brought it all crashing down on the skull of a Spanish-speaking, baseball-loving, equally unemployed Dominican whose name they never knew.

It's something like the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, where forces larger than any of the players seemed to encourage these tragedies and yet go undiscussed.

What happened last year in Patterson Park was either a case of three young men out "wilding" when Pedro Lugo got in their way, or it was a case of something less direct and more complex: the unaddressed multi-cultural tensions that exist when minorities clash for their all-too-tiny piece of the American Dream. In that latter scenario, everyone is a victim.

Here, the ultimate victim was, of course, Pedro Lugo -- irrevocably damaged now, still smiling and sweet-natured to well-wishers, peaceful and watchful during the first half of the sentencing procedure, then, as his sister speaks in his behalf, quietly beginning to weep.

He is unconsolable during the summations. He struggles miserably toward the end as Judge Elsbeth Bothe imposes the sentences: 25 years for one, 10 years for the other two. Two are 16 years old. One is 19.

Pedro Lugo sticks it out, though, for the whole session, and there is a palpable sentiment among many of us that we should stand up in honor of his courage as he is finally wheeled away.

We do not.

The young defendants are still there, no doubt contemplating their own futures. One of them has no prior record except for those 30 seconds of violence. One is a fetal-alcohol syndrome child in special education classes before all this happened, and one is too ashamed to divulge the family problems that might have mitigated his sentence before the judge.

Do you hate in a case like this? Young Pedro Lugo can barely speak for himself anymore. And anyway, among those multi-grieving families, the whole episode is too sad for words.

I believe that multi-cultural coalition and cooperation is the major American social and moral issue of the '90s. I can't forget Rodney King's words in Los Angeles: "Can we live together?"

But why did Pedro Lugo's life have to be shattered before anybody is ready to address the issue seriously in Baltimore?

I can't shake the sight of him, sitting a few feet from me, rolling and unrolling the fingers of his bad hand with his good one, as though trying to coax back its lost feeling.

John Caps writes from Glen Burnie.

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