About the series: As The Baltimore Sun commemorates its 175th anniversary, we revisit the subjects of our most iconic photographs, describing where their lives have led them since their moments in The Sun.
Police Officer Raymond Cook arrests 16-year-old Lance Tate on an armed carjacking charge at the corner of Edmondson Avenue and Allendale Street on June 6, 1997. Weeks later Tate was shot to death in what police called a fight between rival gangs. (Sun photo by Andre F. Chung / June 6, 1997)
Deborah Tate is often reminded of her son, Lance. His bedroom is the same as it was 15 years ago. Her two grandsons share his name. And she often passes the Southwest Baltimore parking lot where he was shot and killed.
And then there is the photograph. It shows her teenage son sprawled on a city sidewalk, head bent upward, his startled expression staring into the muzzle of a semiautomatic handgun pointed at his chest by Baltimore Officer Raymond Cook, who was trying to arrest him on an armed carjacking charge.
The photo — taken June 6, 1997, by a Baltimore Sun photographer about a month before Lance was slain — captured a split-second expression of the violence that consumed the city in the 1990s. More than 3,000 lives were lost in homicides in that decade.
The photo has intermittently resurfaced — on the HBO miniseries “The Corner,” on social media and in The Sun — but the people linked to the picture have moved on in their own ways. Lance is dead. The person who shot him is in prison. The officer is no longer a member of the force.
Meanwhile, Tate, a nurse technician, still lives in her Southwest Baltimore home, just a few blocks from where her son was killed. She remembers him as a child who had potential but couldn’t stay out of trouble.
And she can’t shake the image captured in the photo: “Every time I pass Allendale, I think of that picture.”
Lance’s first run-in with the law, she said, came when he stole a car. He was 12 years old.
She recalls ironing her work uniform in her upstairs bedroom when she heard one of Lance’s friends call to her through the open window. She came down to find that police had surrounded her brick rowhome and were arresting Lance on the front porch.
Other brushes with the law followed, including the 1997 arrest captured by photographer André F. Chung. He and a reporter were riding with police for an unrelated story, when they happend upon the arrest. The photo did not run in the newspaper immediately though, due to concerns that Lance was a minor and there was no accompanying story to provide context.
Tate said she tried to persuade her son to change his ways. “I told him that when you grow up and somebody steals your car, you can’t complain because he’s doing to you what you did to everyone else.” She said, “He wouldn’t get mad. It was just adrenaline, he said.”
Still, she had hopes for his future. He was still attending Walbrook High School and going to class. She hoped to watch him don a cap and gown to receive his diploma, settle down with his longtime girlfriend, and start a family.
And despite his run-ins with the law, she said, Lance was caring, compassionate and loyal.
“He was a friend to anybody who needed him,” Tate said. He often took in friends who had been kicked out of their homes by their parents or who were wanted by police. When she protested, he would say, “What if it were me?”
That loyalty to his friends may have drawn him out on Sunday, June 30, 1997.
All Deborah Tate knows of the events that lead to her son’s death is that a cousin called him for help, saying he was getting into a fight near the Edmondson Village Shopping Center.
Shortly after 8:45 p.m., Lance died in what police described as a fight by rival gangs over territory near the Westside Skills Center, across Edmondson Avenue from his home.
Just a few days after his death, police arrested and questioned Shantron J. Monroe, 18, about Lance’s death. According to a recording of an interview with homicide detective Mike Hammel., Monroe said that he and Robert Earl Holley Jr., 17, were in the parking lot of an auto repair shop when Lance and several others rode by, parked behind the skills center and got out to fight.
Monroe had identified Lance as the teen who took a swing at Holley. “Robert ducked and grabbed him and they started tussling on the ground,” Monroe said in the recording.
He said he stomped on Lance’s head and then others in the group jumped on him — “Joe, Teddy, Burger, Bean, Fry, Tater, and Pork Chop.” Later, Lance was shot.
Detective Hammel asked Monroe, “You mentioned… a rumor that [was] going around the neighborhood. Who was the name that you heard as a rumor that shot, who shot uh, Lance?”
Monroe replied, “everybody say Q.”
Quinton Davis was charged that year in Lance’s death and in another killing in the city. He was convicted in both cases, and is serving a sentence at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown that runs until 2069.
Monroe was later found face down in the first block of N. Commerce St., suffering from gunshot wounds. He died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Lance’s death was the 154th homicide of 312 in Baltimore that year. To many, the victims’ names are insignificant, forgettable, but each held meaning to someone.
Dana Evans had envisioned a life with Lance. They met at Walbrook and dated until his death. “He liked to crack jokes and what not,” she recalled.
Shortly before Lance died, she found out she was pregnant.
She said Lance liked children and was excited to be a father. When they got the first sonogram photo, he ran around showing everyone.
“He always talked about having his own place,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the two of them settling down and raising their son — whom she named Lance.
“I had plans of us together,” she said. “It was difficult with no father and then being a single parent.”
She now lives in Baltimore County and her son, who goes by T.J., is 15 — nearly the age of his father when he was killed.
Several weeks after Lance’s death, Chung, the photgrapher, was at police headquarters with a reporter who was interviewing homicide detectives. Up on the white board, in red marker, Chung, recognized the name Tate.
A detective told him the teen had been killed in a recent gun battle.
Months later, Sun photographers picked their favorite photos of 1997 for a year-end feature. Among them were scenes of the final game at Memorial Stadium, firefighters reviving a small dog after a rowhouse fire, and the weather. Chung settled on Tate’s photo, which had not yet been published.
“I was protective of it,” he said. But after learning that Lance’s life had ended so soon, he felt the photo should be published, now that it could not negatively impact the teen’s future.
“Things have changed over the years but there’s still a lot of black people in situations where their choices are really limited, where their neighborhoods are ruined by loss,” Chung said. After Lance’s death, he felt the photo held even greater meaning.
“Even though it’s hard, it’s still the truth. Sometimes it’s good to put the truth out there. That was my intent when I ran it,” he said. “It spoke to something larger than me, larger than Lance, larger than Cook.”
The photo appeared Wednesday, Dec. 31, 1997. Anger welled up inside Deborah Tate at the sight of the photo that would provide a lasting image of her son, but she was too busy grieving to worry about it. And she had two new grandsons to tend to.
She never thought the photo would appear years later in “The Corner,” HBO’s series about the residents of Baltimore’s gritty, crime-ridden neighborhoods. She recalls that a relative phoned and told her to change the channel, and once again the image popped up of her son, lying on the sidewalk, eyes fixed on the officer’s gun.
And again, years after his death, a relative posted the photo on Facebook, where Lance’s son saw it. “I didn’t want my son to see that picture,” Evans said.
Neither she nor Tate sees the photograph as iconic, just sad. To Tate, it doesn’t represent anything remarkable about the city or its greater problems of violence.
“It’s everyday living,” she said of the scene.
Although she relives the image each time she passes that corner, she doesn’t plan to move from her home — it’s full of better memories of Lance.