Anger about the city's inability to curtail the spiraling rate of violent crime spewed out at last night's NAACP crime summit.
But the raucous meeting in East Baltimore produced no consensus and often bordered on chaos, with audience members shouting down some speakers and heckling others, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
There was also no real discussion of martial law, an idea that the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raised to galvanize community outrage about the carnage dominating life in many poor neighborhoods. The NAACP suggested that martial law would allow state police and members of the National Guard to be deployed to increase security on city streets.
"Will martial law solve this problem?," NAACP President Arthur Murphy asked the crowd at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on East Preston Street. "I think not. But we must come away from this meeting with things we can do."
Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP's national office, released a statement today saying the organization does not "condone the imposition of martial law unless there is a type of clear and present danger such as that we have seen in several recent civil disorders."
Dr. Hooks said he will seek to meet with Mr. Schmoke and city police officials to find ways to address "what we know is a crisis situation."
The Baltimore NAACP last night accused Mr. Schmoke of not treating violence as a crisis. That charge angered the mayor, who said he resented any suggestion he downplays devastation caused by violent crime.
"I take specific umbrage at that comment," Mr. Schmoke shouted after local NAACP Executive Director George N. Buntin Jr. said the mayor seemed to "shrug his shoulders" in remarks made after 3-year-old Andre Dorsey was killed by a stray bullet last month a block from Mt. Sinai.
Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods told the audience, "I share your frustration and outrage."
He then ticked off a list of police initiatives, including a program to rid streets of illegal guns and another to establish a violent crimes task force. So far this year, he said police have seized more than 1,600 guns.
Besides listening to officials, members of the audience offered their own ideas about the sources of the violence and drug problems.
Some blamed the Central Intelligence Agency for cutting deals with corrupt leaders of drug-producing countries. Others said adults -- especially black men -- must establish a stronger presence in their neighborhoods by becoming positive role models for youngsters and providing alternatives to criminal acts.
They said children deal in drugs and violence because that is the only profitable enterprise they know.
"We have an economy in our communities based on drugs because there is nothing else," said longtime community activist Truxon Sykes.
Other suggestions ranged from building fences in Druid Hill and Leakin parks to cage violent offenders who can not fit into overcrowded prisons, to establishing a community "tribunal" to weed out the drug financiers and money launderers in the city. The Nation of Islam offered its spiritual program of self-help.
Many of the speakers' ideas were met with rude audience remarks. Officials and community leaders also were criticized. One person waved a placard that called Mr. Buntin and the NAACP "sellouts."
Mr. Schmoke said the city is hiring more police officers to fill vacancies caused by recent retirements. He also said he supports pending federal legislation to convert 10 old military bases into nationwide "boot camp" prisons for young offenders.
As the mayor spoke, several hecklers shouted at him. One questioning the need for his police bodyguards and the police cruiser stationed outside his Ashburton home.
"My focus was on the people who sat in the pews and came here looking for solutions, not on the loud talkers," Mr. Schmoke said later.
Local NAACP leaders plan to meet next week to decide on their next step. But Mr. Murphy said it will be difficult to take action without stronger community support.