Peter Hermann: Death, drugs and 2 brothers


year ago, members of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation gathered to remember the children lost to murder in Baltimore.

On Saturday, they had to gather again.


"Let us hear the weeping," the church put on its Facebook page.

The end of 2009 brought more killings, 238, than did last year, 234.


2008 was a 20-year low, so you could argue the city maintained a satisfactory status quo.

You could also argue the status quo is not good enough.

The vigils marking the end of another grim year continue.

They gathered again at the church.

And they gathered Thursday at East Monument and Luzerne, in front of Rumors Bar, to mourn the shooting death of Mario Williams. The 31-year-old holds the dubious distinction of being first - Baltimore's first victim of homicide in 2009.

He was shot on the street after a family fight erupted during a New Year's celebration at the corner bar. His elder brother, Michael Williams, organized the vigil and came wearing a white knit cap with "missing you, 1-1-2009" stitched in black lettering. He wanted a candle for every victim this year, so that everyone could be remembered. He had two packs with 100 candles each, and had to send someone to buy more than three dozen more.

About two dozen relatives, friends and others gathered on the corner in a cold, sputtering rain, a sad end to a year in which police say crime dropped, officers targeted gun offenders and seized weapons, but still left the city stained with death, its reputation as a brutal, drug-infested town intact.

The words started soft and grew angry. A preacher screamed, "We will not sit idle, we will not suffer a loss of hope." Thomas Brown, who got out of prison a week ago for selling drugs, said he saw what men in Baltimore are doing to each other and saw that the vigil was his first chance to do something positive.


He sang about prison, Central Booking and violence:

Put the guns down
I know you're willing
If you listen
I can show you how

Mario's 19-year-old cousin Tierra Smith held her 6-year-old son Keon close as she read a poem she wrote after the slaying. The victim and Keon were like brothers, she told me, explaining why the youngster broke into tears as his mother recited the hard words about pain:

"I don't know about yours but mine is unbearable pain; I-walk-around-hating-your-killer type pain; the type of pain that I just may share with some of you; the pain of knowing my family will never be complete." She continued, "I-fall-to-my-knees-and-keep-asking-Him-why type pain; I never get an answer 'cause Mommy keep telling me not to question God.

"Stop the violence, and maybe this can stop the pain for others."

Michael Williams just turned 40 and got out of state prison in November, having served a 10-year sentence for selling heroin on city streets. Williams told me he's reformed, works as a landscaper at an apartment complex, and is trying to put on a play to warn others not to repeat the life he has led.

"We're not going to totally eliminate drugs," Williams told me. "We're not going to totally eliminate homicide. We've got to try to come up with some alternatives. We've got to get people engaged, at a mass level."


It's easy to say and hard to do. Williams - known on the street as "Li'l Mike" - said he started selling drugs in West Baltimore before he was a teenager. He was shot twice, at the ages of 12 and 16, but remained undaunted, and he peddled heroin from roughly 1985 to 2000, when he got his first serious drug sentence.

In prison, in 2006, he developed the play called "Where Y'all" that includes actors dividing heroin - he used baking flour - into piles and tossing money around to a musical score. He put the play on in prison and his parents attended, telling a Baltimore Sun reporter then that they learned painful details of their son's life they hadn't known before.

It was Williams' final stint in prison that he said woke him up. His daughter was 1 year old when he went in and 11 when he got out. His younger brother was killed, and he not only missed a chance to talk to him, he also couldn't attend the funeral. Now, he hopes to put the play on at a local college.

"It's about survival," he said, adding that he wants to find a younger actor to play his role so he can narrate. "We're not discussing who was right and who was wrong, or what punishment should be. We're really just reflecting on the loss of life.

"We're trying to begin a movement to get the younger generations to just think," he added. "Then we can make some changes. It's a process of getting these guys on the street together. It can be done. They need a voice. There's a mentality out there that needs to be challenged. The challenge has to come from guys like myself."