Answering The City's Plea for Help

November 29, 1993

The people of Hollander Ridge are crying for help. You could hear the desperation in their voices after 13-year-old Lawrence Miller died last Monday in a spray of gunfire:

"I've tried to call everybody about this problem, and I never get any help."

"I worked all summer trying to get police to clean up the area."

"I hate it here. . . I just stay in my house."

Lawrence was the second child shot to death in Baltimore in three weeks; 10-year-old Tauris Johnson was gunned down Nov. 4 while playing football. Lawrence is the 316th murder victim this year. As the minister who eulogized Tauris said, crime is bringing this city "down, down, down." Even people who love Baltimore are talking about moving out.

We have devoted countless editorials to analyzing why the killing continues. We think we've done a fairly good job of pinpointing the reasons -- the perpetual despair of young people trapped without hope for a decent future, the moral vacuum caused by family breakdown, the proliferation of guns and drugs, the evil influence of those who have lost appreciation for the value of human life.

But intellectual arguments about what causes crime are not what the people in Hollander Ridge need right now. They need help. It doesn't matter that an ultimate solution might be generations away, or even that a neat answer to the problems that cause crime might not exist. These citizens need to know society is not giving up. They need to know they are not being abandoned to face a monster too big to fight by themselves. They need a respite from fear, and the tools to fight.

One of the products of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's crime summit last May was "Operation People," a State Police program to give drug-plagued neighborhoods temporary relief. Troopers maintain a round-the-clock presence for several weeks while teaching residents community policing and other strategies to be used after police scale back coverage. Operation People was tried last month for the first time in two Annapolis public housing communities, and the results were immediate.

Why doesn't the State Police take the program to Hollander Ridge? Operation People is not a magic bullet; the drug dealers always try to come back once the police go away. But it would give these war-torn residents a chance to grieve, regroup and come up with a better strategy for saving themselves than hiding inside their houses.

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