Respect is hard to come by on the streets of Baltimore these days. Ask anyone -- even the mayor.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke got a first-hand glimpse of the edge to youthful violence recently when he tried to break up a schoolboy brawl in the heart of Roland Park.
One of the 13-year-olds looked the mayor straight in the eye and shoved him in the chest.
"He was acting in a very arrogant and aggressive manner," Mr. Schmoke recalled, his voice cracking with disbelief. "Here was one example of a child with very little respect or no respect for authority. He just didn't seem to care."
Three weeks after he was shoved, the mayor still is clearly astonished by the boy's blatant insolence. Mr. Schmoke said he "just got angry" when he looked out of the window of his chauffeur-driven car the afternoon of Oct. 18 and noticed two eighth-grade boys from Roland Park Elementary/Middle School punching each other across the street from the school.
Without hesitating, Mr. Schmoke ordered the driver to stop, then leaped out to separate the youths.
His bodyguard seized the bigger boy who was swinging away. Mr. Schmoke, a high school football hero who, as state's attorney, once disarmed a knife-wielding man, pulled the other youth against a fence and tried to reason with him.
But the mayor's trademark thoughtfulness and self-possession didn't calm the youthful fury.
Mr. Schmoke conceded that he lost his usual cool and had to keep reminding himself that he wasn't the boy's father. "If I ever went home and said I shoved the mayor in the chest, I wouldn't be able to sit for a couple of weeks," the mayor said.
When the boys had calmed down, the mayor climbed back into his car and left. Within minutes, they were at it again, school officials said.
Assistant Principal Barney B. Bentz broke up the fight for the second time. Both boys were suspended for two days, and their parents were called in for a conference.
The mayor, a Rhodes scholar and Ivy League lawyer who was groomed from an early age for success, has recounted the story in some disbelief.
Students at Roland Park are still talking about the incident. "All of a sudden, he just got out and stopped them," Simone Jenkins, 13, said with wide eyes.
Some city leaders find the incident symbolic of troubling times.
"Can you believe that? There's just no respect," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, who is introducing a measure in City Council Monday night that would require the parents of disruptive children to spend a day in school with them.
To Linda Prudente, the spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union, the incident was just as baffling as when an 8-year-old punched "Officer Friendly" in the stomach after a police presentation at Langston Hughes Elementary School.
Ms. Prudente, nearly speechless for the second time in two weeks, said, "It's just like no one is immune to the things going on. If you can imagine a police officer being punched, if you can imagine this happening to a mayor on a street corner, you can see what could happen to a teacher in the school."
Mr. Schmoke has been made an honorary administrator for his "hands-on involvement," said Kelly Trotter, a school system spokeswoman.
Nevertheless, the mayor remains optimistic about the city's youth. He said it was "just two guys who were making life miserable for all of the other nice kids there."