NAACP weighs martial law plea to fight crime Baltimore killings spur discussion

July 13, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer Reporters James Bock and Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

The Baltimore NAACP chapter is calling an "anti-crime meeting" for later this month to explore ways of better fighting criminal violence in the city, including discussing whether martial law might be appropriate.

The meeting is to include community and religious leaders and families of recent murder victims, as well as the mayor, police commissioner, state's attorney and police district commanders.

George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the group would offer several other proposals in addition to exploring the martial law idea.

Those proposals, an NAACP announcement about the meeting said, would include asking police to reallocate personnel and money for police protection based on crime statistics, concentrating efforts on gun control rather than drugs, and "some type of gun turn-in program."

Reallocating personnel and money, the statement said, would differ from "the current perceived method of allocation where most of the personnel and resources are budgeted to the Central Business District, a low-crime area."

As for the provocative martial law idea, Mr. Buntin acknowledged that "it's a radical departure for the NAACP, and it's a little scary."

As Mr. Buntin envisions it, the call for martial law would allow Gov. William Donald Schaefer to send National Guard troops into Baltimore, but the control would remain with the city government.

"What we really want is the National Guard troops, but we want [the city] to control it," Mr. Buntin said. "We need more manpower on the streets."

But Mr. Schaefer, asked Saturday to comment, said that invoking martial law "would be a terrible mistake" and that he would "have no intention of declaring martial law."

"It would send the wrong message, and it's not needed at the present time," the governor said.

Instead, he urged "much closer" cooperation by the Baltimore city police, state Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson and the state police. He also said certain communities and families must do more in the fight against crime.

"I have informally proposed that the state police be used in and around certain buildings to protect and help organize certain areas," Mr. Schaefer said. He referred specifically to the East Baltimore neighborhood surrounding Johns Hopkins Hospital, "where the future of the hospital may be in jeopardy" because of street crime.

The governor said he would favor a "symbolic" role for the National Guard embodied in legislation now before Congress that would allow a Maryland National Guard hospital unit, now scheduled to be disbanded, to help immunize children in poor neighborhoods.

Mr. Buntin stressed that the martial law proposal is under consideration and that any announcement would be made July 29 at the chapter's crime summit at Mount Sinai Baptist Church, 922 E. Preston St.

He said NAACP leaders plan to meet with the state's attorney's office to discuss exactly how martial law might work. They also want Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to set up a Citizens Martial Law Committee.

"We are seriously considering, and if I had to wager, I'd say we would do it," Mr. Buntin said.

The group's interest in martial law was sparked by the continuing violence in the city. Mr. Buntin cited the June 24 shooting death of 3-year-old Andre Dorsey, killed by stray gunfire near his Biddle Street home; and the robbery-murder of Genro Fullano, a Pepsi-Cola delivery man, on July 2 in West Baltimore.

The Maryland attorney general's office said it could not comment on the possible request.

"For the attorney general to respond, we would need to see the specifics of what they are proposing," said Michael R. Enright, executive assistant to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Maryland law gives the governor the power to proclaim a state of emergency during "times of public crisis, disaster, rioting, catastrophe or similar public emergency within the state, and when public safety is imperiled, or upon reasonable apprehension of immediate danger thereof."

Once an emergency has been declared, the governor may call out the National Guard, which then has "full power and responsibility" over local police agencies in the designated area of emergency. Local officials may request troops from the governor.

Lt. Col. Howard S. Freedlander, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, said that the idea of using the guard in a crime-fighting role was not new, but that "it's got to reach a very serious level" for the governor to declare an emergency.

"There are certain legal restrictions that preclude us from going out on the streets and playing an active police role," he said.

However, Colonel Freedlander said that Maryland guard members already fly helicopters in the state police marijuana eradication program and help the U.S. Customs Service search for incoming illegal drugs in the port of Baltimore.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said martial law usually "means suspension of generally accepted civil liberties" such as freedom of assembly.

"I don't think George [Buntin] is interested in suspending civil liberties, nor Art Murphy," he said, referring to the president of the local NAACP chapter. "They believe in that stuff.

"There's a real problem on the streets, and I understand their frustration," he said. "I hope the kind of proposal we come up with isn't one that says to hell with civil liberties."

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