Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Sept. 4, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Baltimore killer cop caught on videotape

By Andre Powell in Baltimore

A Baltimore police officer has once again killed a young Black man. In early August Officer Charles Smothers shot and killed 22-year-old James Quarles--witnessed by scores of downtown shoppers in front of the world-famous Lexington Market.

Quarles becomes the 26th person kill ed by Baltimore cops since Jan. 1, 1995. There have been 72 incidents of shootings involving police since that time.

News reports say the police were called to the Lexington Mall shopping area by private security guards who reported that a man had a knife. Police arrived to find James Quarles holding an eight-inch knife.

Quarles found himself surrounded by six officers, all with guns drawn and pointed at him.

A big crowd of downtown shoppers gathered. Sensing that the police might shoot, several pleaded with them, shouting, "Don't shoot that man."

One woman screamed at the officers, "Thou shalt not kill."

Soon after, Smothers fired a bullet into Quarles' shoulder. Quarles collapsed and died.

Immediately, the news media began reporting that police had shot a man who had lunged at them with a knife. Within a day, they were publicizing Quarles' arrest record in an attempt to influence public opinion in favor of the police.

Quickly, however, all this was to change.

A man with a video camera happened to be in the area at the time. He recorded two minutes showing the actual shooting and the events before it.


The videotape shows police with guns drawn and pointed at Quarles. You can clearly hear the onlookers pleading for Quarles' life and calling on police not to shoot. At no time does the videotape show the police threatened by any action by Quarles.

Then, as James Quarles appears to be bending down and turning slightly, Smothers shoots and kills him.

This videotape was sold to local TV stations and shown on the local and national news. It has sparked outrage throughout the city, as viewers were able to see that Quarles had not lunged toward anyone.

The videotape has since appeared on "Hard Copy" and on NBC national news, with some commentators comparing it to the videotaped police beating of Rodney King.

When word of the killing spread, the group Unity In Action immediately called a protest rally at the scene of the shooting. Another was held the next day in front of police headquarters.

A candelight vigil was held the next week. There, family members, ministers, activists and local politicians spoke. Lee Patterson, speaking for the Baltimore All-Peoples Congress, linked racist police brutality and deterioriating economic conditions as two aspects of crimes against the poor.

At Quarles' funeral, several speakers pointed out that the autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol were in his system. His knife had belonged to his father. Quarles used it as a tool to open packages of socks.

He sold socks to downtown shoppers as a means to supplement his income as a maintenance worker at the Maryland Institute of Art, so he could take care of his 3- year-old daughter.

He was not using the knife in a hostile manner. He was trying to make a decent living as a member of the working class.

Some speculate that Quarles may have refused to give up the knife initially because it was a memento of his father. Both his parents had died this year, within six months of each other.

Charles Smothers, the officer who killed Quarles, had been previously removed from the force for shooting at his wife's car. Police officials had reinstated him on street duty.

Community groups and concerned people in the community continue to press for justice. More information is available from the All-Peoples Congress at (410) 235-7040.

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