The drug dealers at the town meeting yesterday shooting at each other while a 7-year-old boy was caught in the middle of the fracas were actors -- their weapons cap guns. But the audience members knew the act well.
"This is very, very close to what is real," said Baltimore Police Maj. Ronald Collins after actors from Morgan State University played out a scene in which one dealer brags that he doesn't need to go to college because he makes plenty of money selling drugs.
The Monumental City Bar Association, a group of 400 black attorneys, sponsored the town meeting at Calvary Baptist Church at 3911 Garrison Blvd. to teach the public how the criminal justice system works, and to encourage people to report and help prevent crime.
Five panel members, individuals from the justice system and religious community, led the discussion. About 70 people, including five City Council members, attended.
"The only way a case can be made is if there are witnesses," Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said.
"We're interested in whatever you saw. We're interested in whatever you heard," Mr. Collins said.
Rev. Kevia F. Elliott, pastor at The Lord's Church at 3512 Powhatan Ave., said, "We have to stand up and change our own situation. We're hostages in our own homes. We're afraid to step forward."
Pimlico resident Linwood Cole said he sees the scene depicted by the actors every day. "We need help," he said. "The neighborhood is frightened. We need jobs. We need the middle class to move back to the community."
Baltimore District Court Judge David Young said residents should tell their state and federal legislators they support gun control. It's now possible to rent a gun in some Baltimore neighborhoods for $5 or $10 a night, he said.
Mr. Simms said Mayor Kurt Schmoke has an active crime task force, and Mr. Collins said police in the Northwest district have a community relations committee.
"I advocate going back to basics," Mr. Young said.
Children need to be involved in activities like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that help build self-esteem, he said.
It costs $25,000 to $30,000 a year to keep a person in jail, but only about $10,000 to send him or her to college for a year, Mr. Young said.
"I see drug dealers who could be Rhodes scholars. I see drug dealers who could run major corporations. These are not dumb people," he said, adding that they know how to motivate employees, satisfy customers and implement successful packaging, marketing and distribution strategies.
"Everything Giant Food and General Motors focus on, these drug dealers know," he said.
The Monumental City Bar Association will sponsor a second town meeting at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 at Israel Baptist Church, 1220 N. Chester St.