The truly sad and plain old puzzling

The Baltimore Sun

In a week full of news, two sad stories and one downright weird one stand out.

Sad story No. 1 is the tragic death of Zach Sowers, 10 months after he'd been beaten, stomped and left lying unconscious in the street near his East Baltimore home. Sowers was in a coma for the entire period, while his wife, Anna, stood by his bedside, footed the mounting bills for his medical care and did her best to stir Baltimoreans to outrage about the sorry state of criminal justice in this city.

I met Anna Sowers at a restaurant in the early autumn of 2007. We talked about her husband and his chances of recovery. Mostly we talked about Anna Sowers' skittishness that a Baltimore jury wouldn't convict the four people accused of what is now the fatal beating of Zach Sowers.

A jury never got that chance. Three of the accused - Wilburt Martin, Eric Price and Arthur Jeter - pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Trayvon Ramos, who did the beating. Martin, Price and Jeter got 30-year sentences with all but eight years suspended.

Ramos pleaded guilty and got life with all but 40 years suspended. He's eligible for parole in 20 years, but if he thinks for a second that Anna Sowers won't be at each and every parole hearing he has, saying, "Never! Never! Never!" then he's grossly underestimated the woman.

My condolences go out to Zach Sowers' family and friends. Special condolences - and my admiration - go out to Anna Sowers, for fighting a fight all too many Baltimoreans shy away from.

The second story was sad news for all those devoted fans of actor Richard Widmark, who died Monday. Frankly, I don't know how many of us there are. But I do know we appreciated Widmark for the superb actor he was.

Widmark's perhaps most famous for his role in 1947's Kiss of Death, a film that marked his Hollywood debut. Widmark played the giggling, psychopathic killer Tommy Udo, who in one scene tied a crippled woman to her wheelchair and sent her tumbling to her death down a flight of stairs. I've got to admit, the scene made me leery of being confined to a wheelchair.

But I liked Widmark better in the 1950 film No Way Out, in which Sidney Poitier made his Hollywood debut. (OK, so the Web site says that Poitier had an uncredited role as an extra in the 1947 film Sepia Cinderella, but that doesn't really count, does it?) Widmark played Ray Biddle, the white bigot making life miserable for black intern Dr. Luther Brooks, played by Poitier.

In fact I liked No Way Out better than that liberal-smarmy pap called The Defiant Ones, in which Poitier starred in 1958 with Tony Curtis. In the latter film, Poitier and Curtis started out hating each other and then ended up all palsy-walsy at the end. In No Way Out, Brooks and Biddle hate each other at the beginning of the film and throughout the film. At the end, their hostility practically bristles off the screen.

Widmark's performance carried No Way Out. There wasn't an actor better at playing a hero or a heavy. As a heavy, no one could deliver lines with more villainous venom than Widmark, as he did in the 1958 Western The Law and Jake Wade.

"Do you wanna die now, or in a few minutes?" Widmark's character asks Jake Wade, played by Robert Taylor. A few moments later the tables have turned. Jake has the guns, and the upper hand, but he decides to give former crime partner Clint a chance.

"Tell me something, Clint," Jake asks. "If things had worked out the way you planned, were you gonna give me a gun, or just shoot me in the back?"

"That's an interesting question, Jake," Clint answers. "I'd say I was gonna give you a gun."

Jake then hands Clint an empty holster, but tosses his gun a good 20 yards away. Clint just stares at Jake.

"I was gonna hand ya yours," Clint sneers.

You have to hear that line delivered in the original Widmark-ese to fully appreciate it.

The third story - the downright weird one - is the resignation of Carroll County school board member Jeffrey Morse for using the N-word. He apologized, sincerely, but that wasn't good enough. Let me see if I get this straight.

Last year the Maryland legislature issued an apology for slavery, which involved the horrors of the Middle Passage, whippings, mutilations and other barbaric cruelties. Families were sometimes torn apart. After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed, U.S. marshals sometimes grabbed free Northern blacks and returned them South as slaves.

For that, an apology was deemed sufficient. But for Morse uttering the N-word, an apology isn't good enough?

Am I missing something here?

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