When crimebusters go Blockbusting, good sense takes a hit

THIS JUST IN...

January 19, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

All this yap-yap about how The Block must go because East Baltimore Street is ripe for redevelopment strikes me as big-time wishful thinking. Office space? Yeah, right. We need more office space in downtown Baltimore like we need more lawyers. Nightclubs? We don't need more places for yuppies and 20-somethings to hang out. We have that already. It's called Towson.

The Block is sleazy? Inspector Schaefer said so. "We saw prostitution," the governor remarked grimly, after getting to play the Gen. Patton part during Friday night's big state police raid. And tell me if, in the governor's tone, you didn't hear him say, "Things weren't like this when I was mayor." But truth is, at any time during the last, say, 20 years, cops could have conducted a long investigation of The Block and emerged with the same number of drug and prostitution charges.

So what was going on there last Friday night? I believe cops are the good guys and laws must be enforced. But I smell a political agenda. "City fathers" -- whoever they are -- have been after The Block for some time. They want it gone. They keep telling us how it's so much worse than before. Before what? Before somebody decided to invest $90 million in Commerce Place up the street? (Oh, that was real smart. Put up a 30-story office building near Baltimore's sleaze strip then get upset when you can't rent all the space. Hey, I'm crying about it.)

Look, if the city wants The Block gone, then buy it out. Don't blame The Block for holding up downtown redevelopment. Don't blame it for the failure of the Fish Market, the Power Plant and many of the original elements of the Brokerage. (And don't assume all those locations will become instant successes as soon as The Block goes bust.) You can't blame The Block for the excessive office space. You can't blame it for the debilitating rate of violent crime that infests the publicconscience and makes Baltimore unappealing as a place to visit.

Friday's raid of The Block bars was to the cause of Baltimore public safety what the Grenada invasion was to the cause of international peace.

Trivializing the terrible

My favorite reaction -- because it makes my case -- to last week's column criticizing NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Streets," came from a woman who said: "You're forgetting, it's entertainment. I don't want real life. I don't watch those real-life cop shows." Other comments suggested that you're a dope if, outside of news or public-interest programming, you expect network TV shows to be socially redeeming. But most reaction was surprisingly similar to mine: "Homicide," especially the recent restart episode starring Robin Williams, is artistically intriguing but ultimately trivializes a fierce problem.

Leonard Levin, a Baltimore filmmaker "still trying to get my first feature under my belt," provided an interesting artistic critique -- "jerky camera, MTV-style . . . 'they-all-look-alike' cop show" -- of the Barry Levinson-produced series. Then he turned to the show's content. "Much more important," Levin wrote, "is that the terribly sad situation confronting inner-city blacks is bad enough without it being exploited for sensationalism and television ratings. The constant shoulder-shrugging 'just another killing, ain't nothing we can do about it, what a shame' attitude portrayed by the cast certainly does nothing to impart hope to the youth that watch the show."

Impart hope? That's sadly not the point. As a writer from Sykesville noted, "'Homicide' has nothing to do with social conscience. [Levinson] simply sees a chance to make some money by capitalizing on a pretty good book, and to film his old city in the process." And the old city is not much better for it.

American, of course

Several readers -- more than you really want to know -- called to let me know that Ed McMahon is associated with American Family Publishers, not Publishers Clearinghouse, as stated in Monday's column. Thanks. Nice to know you folks are up on current events.

Cold as a landlord's heart

Diane Griffin, the East Baltimore woman who got two jobs as a result of a December column on her plight -- two kids, no husband (he took off last August), no income, no money for the rent -- seems to be back on track. Except for one thing. Her landlord is still trying to evict her. A number of people wrote personal checks for Diane to help her pay January's nut.

But, when Diane offered to sign the checks over to her landlord, he wouldn't accept them. What a guy, huh?

I told Diane to get a bank account and deposit the checks, then write one for the landlord.

She did as instructed, except the bank, Maryland National, wouldn't give her an account without two forms of photo ID. Diane only has one (a card she received from the Department of Social Services when she signed up for food stamps). Diane doesn't have a driver's license. So she had to write to the town hall in her hometown in North Carolina to get a copy of her birth certificate to get a photo age-of-majority card through the state Motor Vehicles Administration so she could get the bank account so she could pay the landlord and blah, blah, blah.

K? If life its ownself doesn't crush you, the boobocracy will.

This Just In appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you have an item for the column, write me at: The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or call 332-6166.

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