The Dontay Carter Common Market

January 22, 1993

The eggbeater whoop-whoop-whoop of helicopters could be heard over the tightly packed houses. Cherry-red police lights sliced the darkness. Residents checked and re-checked their door locks and stole glimpses out their windows in search of a person they hoped they'd never see.

The Dontay Carter manhunt in Baltimore? No.

This was the scene a few weeks ago in a suburban enclave near Bel Air. A police chase of a stolen vehicle on Interstate 95 led the armed thieves into a neighborhood off the highway. The criminals ditched the car, darted past colonials and split-levels, made it into the woods and eluded police.

For that one evening of fear, of an inability to let the kids wander outside the house or ride to the store for a quart of milk, those suburbanites got a taste of inner-city life.

In fact, the night Dontay Carter was loose, this whole region was one big city.

Heaven help the person who didn't call home to explain he or she was going to be home late from work that night. The 19-year-old Carter had already been convicted of abducting a man in a downtown garage and later beating him to death last year, and was on trial this week for stuffing another hapless captive in a car trunk.

For a few fleeting hours anyway, Carter accomplished what many politicians and business groups have been unable to achieve: He made this region feel as one.

For 30 miles or more in every direction of Baltimore, this area collectively shivered at the news that the murderer Carter had escaped out of a courthouse bathroom window and broken free. You could just about feel the air pressure drop the following evening, the result of 2 million people sighing at once, when Carter was caught.

Can people who don't live with that fear regularly now more vividly imagine what it's like to have one's home become a fortress after dark? Can they now imagine how hundreds of thousands of people, particularly children, live each day?

If those of us who aren't imprisoned by nightly insecurity are content as long as we don't have to barricade the kids in our homes, we will have learned nothing from this week's Carter scare.

No, Dontay Carter isn't a hero for bringing us together. He is just a criminal who reminded suburbanites of the daily terrors suffered by victimized residents of Baltimore's blighted neighborhoods.

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