For Matt McCullough, 'beef' costs a lifetime



There's a headline written in language that Matthew Timothy McCullough can understand. McCullough, who'll be 68 when he's eligible for parole half a century from now, was only a boy of 17 when he was having "beef" last May with another boy at Randallstown High School.

McCullough could have let the matter drop, let it die, squashed it. But he didn't. Ignoring admonitions of Randallstown High administrators to stay away and cool off, McCullough returned to the school with a veritable pistolero posse. After fighting broke out, Tyrone Devon Brown - who had come to back up McCullough - grabbed a gun and fired into a crowd of students. Witnesses testified that Brown then handed the gun to McCullough, who fired some more.

Four young men were wounded. One of them, William "Tippa" Thomas III, was paralyzed. Thomas will have to pay for the cost of "beef" for the rest of his life.

On Thursday, it was McCullough's turn to pay up.

And pay he did, with that 100-year sentence Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh gave him. Charged with four counts of assault, McCullough got the maximum 25 years for each, to run consecutively.

Too harsh, said McCullough's mom, Fannie McCullough, and his lawyer, Timothy M. Dixon. Way above the guidelines of five to 10 years imposed in similar cases.

But this isn't about harshness. It's about the high cost of "beef."

McCullough knows what "beef" is. So does Brown, who got 50 years in the shootings. It's those idiotic disputes hip-hoppers often rap about in songs. Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. had a very famous "beef." That we now refer to both with the phrase "the late" in front of their names shows us the ultimate cost of it.

"Tyrone Brown didn't have a beef at Randallstown High School," Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey told Cavanaugh on Thursday. "Matthew McCullough did."

Bailey urged Cavanaugh to give McCullough prison time "substantially in excess" of what Brown received. In other words, let the one with the "beef" bear the greatest cost of it.

"Perhaps he's had time to think about the unbelievable and tragic set of events he set in motion that day," Bailey said. "He had opportunity after opportunity to let this go and walk away. You're looking at who's morally blameworthy for [Thomas] being in a wheelchair. This man deserves a sentence greater than Tyrone Brown's."

Peggy Henderson, Thomas' mother, told Cavanaugh how her son's shooting affected her. So did Tippa's sister, Lashell Bloodworth, as did his father, William Thomas Jr. Tippa also spoke, and at one point opened his shirt to show McCullough the scars from the bullet wounds and surgeries he's had to endure.

In most other court proceedings, these would have been called victim impact statements. But in this case, they were much more.

They were testimony about the rising cost of "beef."

Dixon argued gallantly for his client, reading letters from people who know McCullough not as the violent hoodlum he's portrayed as in the media, but as a quiet, contemplative lad who attended church, was respectful of his elders, never got in trouble and never engaged in any acts of violence. An 11-year-old boy wrote a letter describing McCullough as someone who not only helped him with his homework but urged him to stay out of trouble.

Then a string of witnesses testified that McCullough was a good boy who changed after his father died in 2003. They urged Cavanaugh to give McCullough "a second chance" and argued that he could be rehabilitated.

But this wasn't about second chances and rehabilitation. This was about the high cost of "beef." Cavanaugh, probably not wise to the crisis that "beef" is causing among young black men, certainly indicated that he knows what that cost is.

"Who's going to give Tippa Thomas a second chance?" Cavanaugh asked.

Tippa Thomas doesn't get one. McCullough gets 100 years. Such is the cost of "beef."

We have no way of knowing how much or what part the music that McCullough and Brown listen to played in the insanity that occurred at Randallstown High School on May 7, 2004. But we do know that "beef" -which rappers celebrate in verse and song - was a factor. William Thomas Jr., standing outside the courtroom during a recess, said hip-hop music may be connecting with our children in ways that we aren't.

In that sense, maybe we're all a little responsible for what happened at Randallstown High School. But those who use violence to settle scores caused by "beef" are more responsible than others, and since the cost of "beef" is shooting through the roof, they should ponder an alternate course of action.

Better switch to vegetarianism, dimwits.

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