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. Works and Days

Mean streets



Homicide detective Robert Cherry ’90. By Gary Wayne Gilbert

Sunday afternoon, East Baltimore. Detective Robert Cherry surveys the crime scene. Shell casings litter a residential street. A car alarm wails. Hours earlier, a drive-by shooting on this corner put a teenager in the hospital. Speeding away, the driver lost control and plowed into a parked car, crushing a three-year-old girl walking down the sidewalk. The little girl is alive, but in critical condition, her brain severely damaged. Word on the street says the shooting was in retaliation for a stabbing on this same corner the night before. Now, four men lie handcuffed on the ground, would-be victims of the drive-by, who police thought were trying to flee the scene. “One of these knuckleheads is gonna tell us who was shooting at them,” Cherry says.

This summer marks the end of Cherry’s fourth year working homicide in the Baltimore City Police De-
partment. “It’s not an easy city to police,” he says grimly. Baltimore has one of the country’s highest murder rates, largely due to a vigorous drug trade; in the 1990s, there were more than 300 murders here every year for 10 years running (Boston last year had 60). “Not something you become immune to, exactly,” says Cherry sadly, “but you do get accustomed to it.”

Cherry grew up in a quiet Boston suburb. He majored in political science at BC and toyed with the idea of joining the Marines. After graduating, though, he moved to Baltimore to work for a group counseling juvenile delinquents (“the Jesuits got to me,” he smiles). He met a few cops on the job and joined the force. “Believe me,” he says, “there are times when you have to go see a body on a hot July night, and it’s been there a few weeks and it’s bloated and there’s maggots and the smell,” he says, “but that doesn’t really bother me. What does bother me is this reckless disregard for life.” He’s been a cop for 10 years, but his face still reddens when he describes what he’s seen.

Still, Cherry relishes the responsibility that comes with the homicide detail. “It all really rests on how you work the case,” he says. “There’s no victim you can talk to, so you have to be methodical.” After staying up all night questioning witnesses to the drive-by, Cherry had arrested the car’s driver and had the name of the shooter. “We’ll get a warrant and round him up soon,” he says.

Justin Ewers

Justin Ewers is a reporter with US News & World Report.


Photo: Homicide detective Robert Cherry ’90. By Gary Wayne Gilbert


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