A letter from 'Little Baltimore'

November 08, 1994|By Joe Otterbein

REPUBLICAN gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey points to the former Maryland residents who have crossed the state line to live in Pennsylvania as folks who are running from high taxes. But taxes aren't the reason for the exodus -- crime is.

After living in Baltimore for nearly 40 years, I recently moved my family to Shrewsbury Borough, Pa., because we felt unsafe in Baltimore. We're among the latest refugees to move to "Little Baltimore," so dubbed because supposedly about 80 percent of the population is from Baltimore and 50 percent commute there daily.

My next-door neighbors are from Highlandtown and Towson. Most everyone in the neighborhood is from Baltimore or its suburbs. And they all say the same thing: They moved to get away from the city's crime.

For years, my wife, Stacey, and I had considered leaving Baltimore. We needed a bigger house, house prices are cheaper in Pennsylvania, the air is cleaner, the schools are better, etc. But somehow all of those reasons were never enough to make us move.

We really love Baltimore, all of our fondest memories took place there. I grew up there; I met my wife there; I started my career there, and our children were born there.

It wasn't until recent months that we began to really fear for our safety. It wasn't one incident, but rather several.

One incident was an unprovoked attack on a neighbor while he was gardening in his yard. Another was a neighbor arriving home to find a burglary in progress. All the news stories about crime victims took their toll on us, too.

Also, key to our decision were our children: We worried that we might not be able to protect them from danger in Baltimore. How can any parent ignore the statistics that show that children are much more likely to be killed or wounded if they live in a city like Baltimore?

Sure, I lived in Lake-Walker, near Lake Avenue and York Road, an area that's not known for drive-by shootings and the like, but we felt that we were surrounded by crime.

When I think about children and violence in Baltimore, I think of 10-year-old Tauris Johnson, who was brutally murdered a block from his home while playing a year ago in East Baltimore.

His life was stolen at the time when he was most vulnerable. His hopes and dreams were snuffed out by a madman in a drug battle who didn't care for the little boy who happened to get in the way of his bullet and its intended target.

What bothers me most is the way some people no longer value life; murders happen in Baltimore almost every day, and the killers are getting younger and younger. The reasons given for such violence are typically trivial. No one is safe from the mindless randomness of the evil these killers perpetrate.

So, that's why I left. Now when I go to work, I feel that I'm leaving my loved ones in a safe place. Sure, I have to commute 40 miles each way, but it's worth it to have peace of mind.

As far as politics is concerned, Democrats need to realize that some criminals deserve nothing but punishment. And Republicans should be willing to support such things as midnight basketball to give kids an alternative to crime, not worry about "the right" to own handguns.

The most important thing is for our political leaders not to win elections by acting tough, but to make us feel safe and protect the children like Tauris Johnson.

Joe Otterbein writes from Shrewsbury Borough, Pa.

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