No Cheers for Being 'No. 1'

September 19, 1992

Baltimore has been proclaimed tops in the nation recently -- for all the wrong reasons.

* The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) reported that 56 percent of black men in the city between the ages of 18 and 35 were either in prison, on parole or probation, being sought on arrest warrants or awaiting trial on an average day in 1991. That was worse than the other city studied to date, Washington, D.C., where 42 percent of young black men were caught in the criminal justice web on a given day. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke expressed shock that Baltimore's problem outdid Washington's, but a survey by his own staff confirmed the study.

* Baltimore had the ninth highest dropout rate in the nation behind Trenton, N.J., and seven California cities, and was second worst in the Northeast. According to U.S. Census data, 22.8 percent of all 16- to 19-year-olds in Baltimore had not completed high school or were not enrolled in school. By comparison, New York City, no one's idea of a enviable school system, had a 13 percent dropout rate. The national average was 11.2 percent. Baltimore school officials dispute the census findings and calculate the dropout rate at 10.3 percent.

* Amtrak rates Baltimore as its most dangerous corridor when it comes to kids throwing rocks at trains. The city is worse than Washington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia or any place along the system's 24,000 miles of track. From August 1991 to 1992, Amtrak recorded 114 stonings of trains in West Baltimore, more than double the stonings in Amtrak's second worst area, in north Philly.

There's no simple answer or explanation for it all. But a place regarded as more corroded by crime than Washington, less schooled than New York and more reckless than Philadelphia may be in even deeper trouble than we thought. To be sure, the city has received national acclaim for positive initiatives as well this summer: for the retro-splendor of the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards and for the bold privatizing of nine public schools. But this city's place near or at the top of more dubious listings must give one pause. Baltimore snuffed out a bad national stigma with a renaissance in the late '70s, paving the way for Maryland's growth in the '80s. The city, and state, can't afford to let a bad reputation resurface.

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