Who's keeping the streets unsafe?

April 14, 1992

Terrika Johnson, age 4, was lucky last Thursday. The bullet from a shootout that erupted as she walked with her mother and baby sister near the Maryland State Penitentiary did not pierce any vital organs. But a little girl should not need such extreme good fortune to get home safe from a walk.

What should be a guaranteed fact is that the Terrika Johnsons, innocents still learning about the world around them, are owed protection from the thugs and gunmen who would do them harm. The girl's mother, interviewed after she learned that her child would live, said last week was not the first time Terrika had heard gunfire. Just last summer, she had run terrified into the house, screaming, "They're shootin' out there!"

Sadly, East Baltimore is not the only area of the city where children might repeat that call. The gunning down of two women near Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore early on Christmas Day made that painfully obvious. The death of another woman to gunfire, reportedly drug-related, in North Baltimore on Jan. 2, underscores the point: Violence, especially drug violence, is escalating. The city's worsening murder rate, already past the pace of 1991, shows yet another face of the problem.

There are no simple solutions, but it also is painfully obvious that the police need some new tools to get a handle on the violence. How are the 9-mm handguns so popular with drug dealers passing into the hands of juveniles in their middle teens? How are the assault weapons showing up in such increasing numbers getting into the hands of thugs with long arrest records? Who supplies the suppliers of the drugs poisoning the streets?

NTC There is abundant proof that the rapid flow of money in illicit drugs exerts a near-irresistible pull on young people with few legitimate job options. But the police do a pretty good job of catching such people already. For evidence, look into the crowded cells at the Maryland Penitentiary. Better yet, look at the startling turnover in the drug business: In the city's hardest-hit areas, after five years all the street "players" are new; those at work earlier are either behind bars or dead.

Getting to the supporting players who provide the weaponry and paraphernalia for the hoodlums who are making city streets unsafe must become a high priority for law-enforcement officers. Those who support the drug trade by selling the hoodlums vials, "cutting" chemicals, scales, needles and guns have as much blood on their hands as the triggermen fighting turf wars on the streets. It is time they were brought squarely to face the consequences of their actions.

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