Bullets of Death and Sorrow

December 28, 1991

Baltimore has a history of bizarre violence. Some years ago, a Thanksgiving dinner quarrel ended in a fatal stabbing. The reason: a dispute over who would get white or dark turkey meat. But even with that kind of background, the gun violence of this Christmas week has been shocking.

Gold and Division streets in West Baltimore are in the heart of an area plagued by narcotics and prostitution. But many ordinary people live in the modest row houses on those side streets, off Pennsylvania Avenue, such as Joanne Curbeam, 30, and Helen Davis, 39. They were walking home from a Christmas celebration when, suddenly, their lives were snuffed out -- innocent victims of an exchange of semiautomatic fire among four men arguing over drugs at the street corner.

Theirs were only two of a number of lives lost in senseless shootings in the Baltimore area over this holiday season of light and peace. We shudder to think what mayhem lies in store next week, when the beginning of 1992 is celebrated.

Perhaps the most notable and disquieting development in crime nationwide and in Baltimore during this year has been the epidemic spread of guns. Younger and younger children are sporting guns as juvenile status symbols. Predictably, guns are now being increasingly used to solve even the silliest arguments. As gun-slingers take over neighborhoods, ordinary people take cover. "We have to sleep on our floors because we're not safe in our own homes," one frightened woman told a reporter.

This random violence is not easy to eradicate. But some measures are being successfully applied in cities throughout the nation. One of those measures is community policing, an all-out assault on the causes of crime and violence.

At Gold and Division streets this would mean the following: Continuing police presence to scare away drug dealers and addicts hanging out at street corners. Totally inadequate street lighting would be improved. And police officers would make a concerted effort to reestablish a relationship of trust between themselves and the area's many decent and law-abiding people living in fear.

Several months ago, the Baltimore City Police Department announced plans to implement community policing. Outside consultants were hired and they said they would study community policing nationwide. Absent from their list of places to visit was Baltimore County, even though its community policing effort has won praise throughout the nation and overseas. Isn't this the time for the city police brass to take a short ride to Towson and start talking about an immediate implementation of a policing effort that has a proven record of success in reducing deaths and violence?

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