Dontay Carter and the dance

January 22, 1993

Escaped murderer Dontay Carter was captured hiding under a bedsheet.

Ironically, that's the same reaction many of us had, figuratively at least, to the news that Carter had escaped. Even in a region that buries enough homicide victims yearly to populate a small town, few individuals summon the thunderhead of fear that this 19-year-old has. He gets full-name treatment in the headlines -- -- "Dontay Carter escapes" -- because he's become an almost mythical symbol for the ills of a city and a region.

It was ironic, too, that the manhunt for Carter played out as mayors from around the country gathered for a black-tie "Pre-Inauguration Gala" at the Baltimore Convention Center. Mayor Kurt Schmoke hosted the party to draw attention to the needs of urban America. Bill Clinton, 30 miles down the road, was too occupied to attend, but the city chief executives nevertheless wanted to emphasize that Mr. Clinton should be more responsive to urban angst than was his predecessor.

Actually, a metropolis beside itself with terror due to the escape of a murderer delivered the point much better than a parade of tuxedos. The phobia over Carter -- who is charged with a string of kidnappings in downtown garages and convicted for a murder in one of those -- sends a more inclusive message. A gathering of mayors requesting additional federal money doesn't move the consciousness of the growing suburban populace one iota; it probably comes off as just another case of cities with their hands out.

The escape of Dontay Carter, however, melted the invisible walls we erect. The evening that news broke of his breakout, you could hear door locks click from Timonium to Taneytown. The following morning, after a UPS robbery by two black men in Lutherville, Baltimore County police responded to a 911 call by sending in a helicopter and police cruisers. As the incident unfolded, a black professional in business clothes was even questioned by police, so great was the angst caused by the Carter escape.

It was the kind of collective tension we feel when a forecasted snowstorm is about to hit, or perhaps as when the nation was poised for Operation Desert Storm to begin two Januaries ago. As Rodney King said last spring, we're all in this together. The fear this mid-week was a broken window through which fortunate suburban dwellers could visualize how many inner city residents must live every night.

If a banquet hall full of mayors didn't convince everyone that they and their governments, at all levels, have a stake in the revitalization of the city, possibly the insecurity that one unrepentant, violent young man visited upon this region did.

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