Standing in front of reporters and TV news camera crews, the prosecutor thundered from the lectern set up outside the red brick courthouse in downtown Annapolis.
“Today, justice was served for the two attempted murder victims as well as Michelle Cummings,” State’s Attorney Anne Leitess said.
As far as justice ever goes, she’s right.
The 31-year-old man who shot the Texas woman as she celebrated her son’s induction into the Naval Academy with family and friends was convicted on Tuesday of first-degree murder and other charges. He will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.
What about justice for Annapolis?
A few phrases during Angelo Harrod’s trial struck me hard — “depraved heart,” chief among them. In the courtroom, it meant Harrod was guilty because he set out to kill someone that night in June 2021. It didn’t matter that he missed his intended victims and someone else died, the victim of a stray bullet. Harrod was guilty of murder, the jury decided.
I’ve stood where Cummings, her husband Leonard and their friends spent their final moments together on that sultry night in June 2021. My wife worked for years at the hotel on West Street, then called Loews Annapolis but now the Graduate Annapolis, and I spent time on the patio with her or waiting for her.
My in-laws stayed at the hotel when they came to Annapolis to celebrate my daughter’s high school graduation and my son’s. I once saw Matt LeBlanc, Joey on the old “Friends” sitcom, there while he attended a wedding.
And I’ve spent a little time on Pleasant Street, Town Pines Court and Clay Street. They are located in the nearby neighborhood where “Gelo” Harrod and another gunman stalked his ex-girlfriend and her new man as they drove through the area.
Videos assembled by police and the Anne Arundel County prosecutor’s office show them walking quickly after her SUV, searching for a shot in the dark because of some unknown offense. Their bullets flew across the wall separating Clay Street, with its history of poverty and violence, and the hotel patio.
There, the life of a 57-year-old wife and mother spending a few happy moments ended.
I keep thinking about Harrod, wearing black sweats with a gun at his side, and his accomplice walking down Annapolis’ streets. Those security-camera videos shown during the trial replay in my mind, and I can’t but wonder about the people living behind those closed doors as he walked past that night. A depraved heart.
Leonard Cummings Jr. called himself the victim of gun violence because of his wife’s murder. And he and his family certainly are. Leonard “Trey” Cummings III, a midshipman who plays for the Navy football team, has a tweet pinned atop his Twitter page. It’s from the day that his mother died on June 29, 2021 and it simply asks, “Why?”
Drive back to Obery Court and College Creek Apartments, and the people who live there are victims, too.
Gun violence haunts this part of Annapolis, as it does other neighborhoods that are home to some of the city’s poorest residents, often people of color. Why don’t residents rise up when this happens? Why don’t we weep for them as we do the Cummings family?
Elijah Wilson, Tierra Taylor, Charles Carroll Jr. and Terry Bosley are a few of the dozens of young Black people killed by gunfire in these neighborhoods in the last 15 years. We hear it all the time: Everyone knows who did it; no one is willing to come forward.
So, nobody gets arrested. No justice is served for them.
Some say it’s fear. A man with a gun is a powerfully intimidating force.
Others think it’s a no-snitching culture, as common in a city where a handful of killings happen each year as it is in places where death by gunfire is an epidemic. Listen to prosecutor Leitess again, this time with a little less thunder in her voice:
“I know as a mother myself, seeing this violence and not having the community rise up and stop it is very upsetting.”
Others say it’s more complicated than that.
Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson sees the acceptance of a depraved heart as the result of generations of being pushed down, over-policed and underrepresented. It’s hard in some communities to trust the police when, for so long, the police have been the ones to fear.
“You have to look at its deep context,” Jackson said, standing just outside the courtroom moments after Harrod was convicted.
Part of that context was visible in the dozen young women sitting behind Harrod during his trial. After the verdict was read, their tears under the vaulted skylights of the courthouse hallway were as sincere as those that fell from the faces of Cummings family members.
There are programs to help these communities deal with the impact of gun violence. They often lack the funding to be robust. The police leadership has changed. For the first time in history, the city police chief, county police chief and county sheriff are all men and women of color. Jackson believes his officers are slowly winning people’s trust.
Living with violence — watching your friends or the kids in your neighborhood die — has an impact.
A friend visited my dreams the night after I witnessed the verdict come in against Harrod. Maybe it was because I sat in the spot where I had watched part of the trial for another man: the one who killed my apparition and four other friends in the Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018.
Or maybe it was because I’ve started a new job as a columnist for a major news outlet, something my friend and I agreed would be about the best job you could have in journalism.
Strangely, my friend shows up in cars when he comes to me. Maybe that’s because I used to make fun of his stupid Prius. Who knows? He never says anything, he never smiles or reacts as I tell him how much I miss him and the others. How much I regret. What could he say? He is dead, after all.
Then he’s gone, and I’m awake. Breathing hard. Trying not to wake my wife with quiet, stifled sobs.
If eddies of gun violence drag me under sometimes while I sleep, what does it do to the people trapped by them in their waking hours?
As I watched Chief Jackson, Mayor Gavin Buckley, Annapolis police Capt. Amy Miguez, Leitess and others hug Cummings family members on Tuesday afternoon, I thought about what it would take for this family to find peace. They’ll be back in February for Harrod’s sentencing, getting a chance to tell him what he stole from them.
And they’ll be back as their son continues his four years at the Naval Academy. As most grads do, one day he’ll probably come back for reunions and football, and maybe even a duty assignment.
I doubt any of them will ever find much peace in Annapolis.
People here complain about gunfire near their homes coming from one of the city neighborhoods where the threat of deadly violence is so often present. It is a compact city, the powerful living just blocks from the powerless. The unintended death of Michelle Cummings must terrify all of them as a harbinger of what could happen.
It must be worse to live behind those doors on Pleasant Street or Ridout Street or Obery Court, where Harrod and his accomplice walked with guns in their pockets on that hot June night.
I do understand the pain of living with the actions of a depraved heart. I just don’t know the cure. I’m not sure anyone does.