The passing of William Donald Schaefer has created a hole in our state that will be difficult to fill. His efforts on behalf of the citizens of the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland are unparalleled.
I am proud of the manner in which the leaders and citizens of our state honored this public servant, and I hope that he rests in peace after working diligently to make our communities better places to live, work, play and grow.
Schaefer’s passing has also created an opportunity. An opportunity for those of us in the professional and political worlds to add our voices, thoughts, opinions and solutions to the challenges we face. An opportunity to demonstrate to our youth that their interests are at the heart of the decisions we make. An opportunity to “create the future,” as Bill Gates is fond of saying.
As this opportunity presents itself, there are several stories that deserve immediate attention and should prompt discussions by leaders in our political, business and legal arenas regarding the safety and security of our state.
The first involves the recent discovery of the body of Phylicia Barnes, the honor student from North Carolina who visited Baltimore in December to spend time with her stepsister. After she had been listed as missing for several months, Ms. Barnes’ body was found near the Conowingo Dam in Cecil County.
There are few, if any, leads concerning what transpired before her death, and investigators are at a loss as to why this tragic incident occurred.
Our leaders must do all they can to communicate to the family of Ms. Barnes that they not only grieve with them, but are prepared to work tirelessly to make Baltimore in particular and Maryland in general a safe place to visit. The family must feel the sense of urgency necessary to be convinced that their loved one’s death was not in vain, and will result in policies, procedures and/or campaigns that will send the right messages to the right constituencies.
A brutal beating
The second involves the brutal beating of a transgender person at a McDonald’s in the Rosedale community. The incident, filmed by an employee of the restaurant, has sparked a significant number of protests and calls to action.
Most important, it has generated discussions about tolerance and respect for differences. The 1,000- pound elephant in the room concerning this incident relates to the fact that there is still a great deal of tension, anger, ignorance and sometimes hatred among people from different groups.
Our schools, places of worship, civic organizations, workplaces and media outlets must be more intentional in stressing the importance of respecting differences. Our political leaders must strengthen the laws that protect us.
Our leaders of the bar can and should write, speak, counsel and use the system fully to ensure that our rights are clearly understood and preserved.
Our business leaders can use their leverage and authority to communicate the message of tolerance. The worst thing that we as a community can do is allow this story and countless others like it to simply become caught in the two- to three-week news cycle and removed from the public conscience.
Keeping an open mind
The third relates to the trial of brothers Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim, members of a Park Heights citizens patrol group, who pleaded not guilty to beating a black teenager last fall as he walked through their neighborhood. The two men are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and possession of a deadly weapon in the November incident, and both could receive up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Passions raised by the case have been intense, and numerous meetings between groups in Park Heights have not appeared to quell the tension. The incident has forced discussions about race, community control, safety and proper methods of communication.
The trial has the potential to help facilitate these discussions or blow the issues wide open. It makes sense for us to pay close attention to the trial, and do our best to keep an open mind as the issues described above are explored in the context of the brothers’ case.
The passing of William Donald Schaefer has provided us with an opportunity to not only reflect on his great work, but to also think critically about how we can continue his legacy of service and dedication to making our communities better.
Schafer’s commitment to identifying and quickly resolving problems is worthy of emulation, and his resolve to “do it now” should inspire us to act. We can and will be better if we follow his outstanding example.
Craig A. Thompson, who writes a monthly column for The Daily Record, is a partner at Venable LLP, and represents clients in the areas of commercial litigation, products liability, and personal injury. He is the chair of the firm’s diversity committee. He is also the host of a weekly two-way talk radio show, and the author of a series of children’s books on African-American history. His email address is CAThompson@Venable.com.