Reprehensible solutions for Inner Harbor panic

WILEY A. HALL

April 15, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

"Maybe we ought to just give it up and not even try t integrate with the rest of society," my friend Will B. Humble said with a sigh. "Maybe they ought to just rope off certain sectors of the city and make them off-limits to us blacks."

"Don't be so melodramatic," I said.

"Melodramatic!" Humble exclaimed. "I'm not the one who's being melodramatic!"

We had been discussing the great Easter Sunday panic at the Inner Harbor, where hordes of marauding teen-agers had surged up and down the promenades at Harborplace, allegedly terrorizing tourists and forcing shopkeepers to close early.

Well, OK, maybe there weren't hordes of teen-agers and maybe they didn't exactly maraud.

In fact, after the great Easter Sunday panic had ended, police officials conceded that the young people had not really done much to spark any hysteria other than being at Harborplace. No crimes were committed. No arrests were made. There is no evidence that the majority of the young people were unruly or threatening.

A large number of young people simply had gone to the Inner Harbor to show off their Easter finery.

"They were acting like kids," Lt. Robert F. Smith, of the city police, told a reporter. "It's a park and they had as much right to be there as anyone else," said the officer who emerged as a paragon of sanity in the entire affair.

But tourists and suburban families felt terrorized. As it got later and darker Sunday, families packed up their children and fled back to the suburbs. Police were besieged with reports that a riot was either in progress at the Inner Harbor or about to start. Some merchants and restaurateurs along the promenade closed shop. One witness told a reporter Monday that the size and composition (but, notice, not the behavior) of the crowd made him think there had been a verdict in the Rodney King case.

The future of the city's glitzy waterside showplace hangs in the balance because whites already are jittery about venturing into the dark interior of most of Baltimore. Harborplace is one of the last oases.

"Clearly something has to be done to reassure our white brethren," said Humble. "We ought to set up checkpoints at all the family places -- the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Zoo, Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- and let only a certain number of black teen-agers in at a time."

"That would be racist and wrong," I complained sourly.

"OK, we can restrict all teen-agers and young adults regardless of color unless they are accompanied by a responsible adult," said Humble.

"No," he continued thoughtfully, "make it a restriction on all teen-agers and young adults regardless of color who attend or attended city schools.

"No, make it a restriction on all teen-agers or young adults regardless of color who attend or attended city schools other than Poly, City or Western."

"No, make it . . ."

I decided it was time to interrupt him. "Forget it, I get the point. However you define it, you're still talking about apartheid."

"I think we'd all be more comfortable," insisted Humble. "Whites can enjoy a family outing in the city without worrying about a sudden verdict in the Rodney King case. And blacks, at least, will know where they stand."

"I still think it's a bad idea."

"I think it's a good idea," said Humble. "In fact, we could use the check-points to do a lot of things our society has decided is important. For instance, each checkpoint could have a clinic that offered young blacks free vasectomies or Norplant implantations. Welfare recipients would not be allowed inside places like the zoo unless they could prove that their children attend school regularly and have had the proper medical checkups.

"Pregnant women or women with small children could be denied admittance until they identified the father of their children. And of course, all young black men would be strip-searched for weapons and their records would be checked for outstanding warrants."

"Humble," I said. "You're my friend, but I find everything you've said offensive in the extreme."

"Don't blame me," Humble said innocently. "Blame these days and times. These days and times are offensive in the extreme."

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