Two boys carjacked an 80-year-old Baltimore City Councilwoman. Now she's their advocate.

by Luke Broadwater
The Baltimore Sun
Jan 3, 2018

The weather wasn’t too cold that December morning, so Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector put on a light jacket as she headed for her gold Buick.

Two teenage boys from Southwest Baltimore were in her Inner Harbor parking garage, cutting school and looking for cars to steal. They fixed their eyes on the 80-year-old Spector.

The attack was quick and it was violent.

As Spector got in her vehicle, the 13-year-old blocked her door from closing. The 15-year-old hit her in the face, hard.

“I was mad as hell,” Spector recalled recently. “They said, ‘You white bitch, give me your car.’ They punched me in the face. Threw me into a concrete pillar. I was screaming like crazy.”

Word of the attack and the subsequent arrests of the boys made evening newscasts and morning newspapers, and fueled more local anxiety. In a city besieged by violence, it seemed to show that no one, not even an octogenarian city official, was safe.

What’s less well known is this: Instead of seeking vengeance, Spector quietly decided to become the boys’ advocate.

She and a team of nonprofit workers, mentors, cooks and coaches, a group Spector has dubbed the “Good Samaritans,” have been working with the boys for months — during and after their time on house arrest — and say their grades, school attendance and attitude have shown marked improvements.

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......Shortly after the carjacking, Spector attended a court hearing for the boys.

Michelle Suazo, UEmpower’s cofounder and vice president, pulled Spector aside and talked to her about the boys’ situation. Despite the crime, Suazo told Spector, she believed the boys had a lot of promise.

“We invited her to come to the neighborhood and see how much is needed here,” Suazo said. “We had kept on saying we need something here. We need something. And nobody was listening.”

The median household income in their Carrollton Ridge neighborhood is less than $25,000. Nearly half of families live below the poverty line. Lead paint violations are more than three times the city average, and youths are nearly twice as likely to be murdered as elsewhere in Baltimore. The younger boy lived in a home where the electricity had been shut off, and seldom attended school.

“We went to court not to say they shouldn’t be punished, but to see if there was some way we could find a solution,” Suazo says. “They need to stay busy. They need to stay engaged. Our goal was to be louder than the streets. If you're not there every day the streets just call the kids in at a very early age.”

It would have been easy for Spector to stay angry at the teens. She could have asked the judges to jail them for years.

Spector says she drew on her Jewish faith, and chose to forgive them.

“The Talmud says you first have to have empathy,” she said. “You have to do acts of love and kindness.”

That day in court, Spector — sporting a big swollen black eye — approached the older boy and started talking. She told him, “Kids don’t hit grown-ups.”

“He burst out crying, and he hugged me,” Spector says. “That was in the courtroom. I knew I was hooked. I was going to be there.”

The boy recalls being overcome with emotion.

“We spoke. We hugged,” he recalls. “She gave me a kiss on my cheek. It made me feel happy. I started feeling sad for what we did to her.”

“I was so sad, what we did to her, especially when I seen her face,” he said. “I was like we couldn’t have done this. Not this bad. But it turns out we did. It just broke my heart. Every time she seen me, she kept giving me kisses on my cheek. I kept giving her big hugs.”

Suazo asked the older teen: “What is it that I can do for you? He said, ‘Miss Michelle I want a job.’

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