Childhood as nightmare

July 09, 1992

Tuesday was a big day for news about children and most of it was bad. In Washington, D.C., the Children's Defense Fund released another sobering report on the rise in poverty among young people in this country. From 1979 to 1989, a time of prosperity for many Americans, the number of children living in poverty rose by more than 1 million, an increase exceeding 11 percent. According to the report, Maryland actually saw a slight drop in the child poverty rate, from 12.5 percent in 1979 to 10.9 percent a decade later. However, more recent figures reflecting the effects of the recession are not yet available.

Statistics aside, the headlines in Tuesday's Evening Sun tell why childhood itself is becoming a nightmare for many young people -- and why lip service to children's issues is no longer enough for any country that takes its future seriously.

Stripped across the top of Page One was the chilling story of a house fire, set by an arsonist, that trapped and killed five young children on East Eager Street. A sixth child remains hospitalized in critical condition. At least three other children survived the fire. But with that narrow escape seared into their memories, who can tell what terrors will haunt their sleep in years to come?

Nightmares must be common in the young lives of children growing up in this and other troubled neighborhoods across this country. Imagine what children on Eager Street will dream about these summer nights after being awakened by sirens and watching firefighters remove from a burning house a charred plastic baby seat containing an eerily still two-month old infant.

Sharing Page One with the house fire was another story affecting children. Two blocks away, only hours before the fatal blaze, a two-year-old boy took a bullet in the wrist, the 18th child under 15 shot in the city so far this year. This week's victim, Michael Gordon, was lucky. Two other young shooting victims died from their wounds.

Police are following leads suggesting that a domestic dispute was the motive for the arsonist's deadly revenge. Young Michael Gordon, like many of the city's other shooting victims, can apparently blame the drug wars for his brush with death.

Drug wars, family feuds -- whatever the cause, too many children Baltimore and elsewhere can no longer confine their nightmares to the familiar monsters of childhood's restless but innocent dreams. In the summer of '92, nightmares have become all too real.

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