Relocation of the poor won't solve the problem

November 01, 1995|By GREGORY KANE

For those folks who believe Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger is a racist for his opposition to a proposed plan to move poor black city families to his bailiwick, a word of advice: Add one Gregory Kane to your list of bigots.

That's right. Me and old Dutch Ruppersberger in a dead heat for the Mark Fuhrman Brotherhood Award. Because if being opposed to the desegregation lawsuit filed by the ACLU -- which I affectionately call the A-C-To-Hell-With-You -- means being a racist, then I'm one.

I believe in empowerment, you see, not necessarily integration. I'm funny that way. When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington, I was a mere lad of 11. I listened to every word and knew in my heart he had made an excellent speech that would go down in history. But I was left puzzled by his dream to see "little white boys and white girls joining hands with little black boys and black girls" -- especially since there weren't any little white boys or white girls in my neighborhood to join hands with.

So integration has never been a priority with me. I was stunned when my mother wanted to transfer me from Harlem Park Junior High to then-predominantly white Rock Glen Junior High.

"She wants to send me where?" I asked myself after I recovered from my incredulous daze. "And with who?"

So my opposition to integration for the sake of integration goes back a ways. I've always been opposed to busing, because I failed to realize how simply sitting next to a white kid would make me a better student. Black conservative columnist and talk show host Tony Brown explained it better, citing how Asian students as a group best everybody academically. If black students have to be bused anywhere, Brown quipped, bus them to Chinatown.

But some can't get over the knee-jerk response to integration. The A-C-To-Hell-With-You is apparently one such organization. What poor black inner-city families need is just to live near some white people, then their problems will be solved.

So the A-C-To-Hell-With-You files a desegregation lawsuit to "break up the nearly all-black concentrations of poor people in inner-city housing projects," to quote from this paper's story. Under the proposal, 1,342 such families will move to surrounding suburbs, most likely in Baltimore County.

So what does Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger do? He does the same thing I would do in his shoes. He flips his lid. He's incensed that no one has bothered to tell him about the plan. He reminds everyone that his county has housing problems of its own, and that, Lordy, ain't there enough vacant houses in the city that could be renovated and used to house those families?

You're damn skippy there are. Drive through parts of East, West Baltimore and you will see almost entire blocks of boarded-up houses. Vacant houses now dot the Northwest Baltimore landscape with an alarming frequency. Count the vacant homes, and I'd wager that they come to 1,342 -- easily.

Here's some more math Ruppersberger should urge the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, the federal housing department and the city to do. Divide 1,342 by 24 -- the number of counties in the state, plus Baltimore -- and you get 56. Spread the families throughout the state. Send 56 to each county and leave 56 in Baltimore. If integration is such a good thing, let every county in the state share in the blessing. After all, fair is fair.

And speaking of fairness, I'd like to hear the good folks in the A-C-To-Hell-With-You explain to Gordon L. Cook Jr. the justice of their lawsuit. Cook, whose tale was told by Sun reporter Patrick Gilbert in Monday's paper, is on a Baltimore County waiting list for a federal rent subsidy. Now, thanks to the A-C-To-Hell-With-You, city residents may leap ahead of Cook on the waiting list.

That, of course, is why I've renamed the organization the A-C-To-Hell-With-You. If you're not a pornographer, a Nazi, a Klansman or a member of an extremist group, the organization's philosophy is "To Hell With You." There must be a dearth of pornographers, Nazis and Klansmen to defend these days, so the A-C-To-Hell-With-You was stuck with taking up the cause of po' inner-city folk.

It's a noble cause, but misguided. Moving poor folks to suburbia does not ultimately empower them. It simply reinforces the mentality of dependence on government assistance.

My mother -- and I suspect, hundreds like her -- worked to move first from Lexington Terrace and then later from the Murphy Homes projects. When she eventually bought a home, it was after two years of saving by working overtime -- sometimes putting in workweeks of 55 to 70 hours. She realized that what the government gives it can eventually take away.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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