Easter at the Inner Harbor

April 18, 1995

Easter at the Inner Harbor provided a good example of how people looking at the very same thing often see it in completely different ways.

For most of the 9,000 people who visited the Inner Harbor to hear the free jazz music and enjoy the ambience of the promenade, Sunday was a most enjoyable day.

But an incident -- unnecessarily blown out of proportion -- did mar the experience for others who lingered for the evening concert. As it was drawing to a close, a group of up to 25 teen-agers, by all descriptions mostly African Americans, suddenly ran through the harbor, pushing and shoving to get by.

Many people among the holiday throng, most of them white, apparently feared the worst and hurried to get out of the way. In the confusion, someone knocked over a potted plant at a seafood restaurant.

There was no other reported property damage. No one was reported injured. The police said they made no arrests. They said no shop closed earlier than normal for Easter.

Even so, the next day the radio air waves were filled with comments by the talk show crowd decrying the violence and maintaining that the rough-housing had caused shops to close early.

Those erroneous reports have spawned some unjustified but nonetheless genuine fears, fears that could keep some people from returning to the Inner Harbor anytime soon.

The episode shows what can happen when people rely on stereotypes to assess situations. Seeing a crowd of young black males on the run, some people panicked. By running away and knocking over flower pots, those persons who reacted hastily only added to the potential danger with such a large crowd on the waterfront.

The incident could make one wonder what will happen at the Inner Harbor this summer, when more young people will be hanging out there who may have little else to do.

That situation could become acute if Congress carries out threats to cut federal support of youth summer jobs programs and the city can't come up with any alternative funding.

Under these or any other circumstances, Baltimore doesn't need divisive rhetoric based on inaccurate information creating an atmosphere of dread that promotes the notion that people should blindly fear and run away from those different from themselves.

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