Anarchy on the streets Mobtown is reality: Gunfire, running red lights are symptoms of crumbling public order.

January 04, 1996

INNER HARBOR FIREWORKS, as seen from a rooftop deck on New Year's Eve, were delightful. Less so was the steady rat-tat-tat of serial gunfire that started shortly after 11 p.m. and continued past midnight. While there were no reports of deaths, at least one 24-year-old firing a .22-caliber handgun was wounded when a shot from someone else's gun hit him in the thigh.

Celebrating New Year by firing guns is nothing new in Baltimore. After all, the city's violent past earned it the moniker "mobtown." Four years ago, a man watching the fireworks from a roof was fatally wounded by a stray bullet.

Nevertheless, the amount of gunfire heard in West Baltimore as one year ended and another began was frequent enough to prompt partygoers to talk about Beirut.

Police say they received reports of bullets puncturing at least eight cars in a city where the number of homicides keeps rising.

It is easy to dismiss this by claiming that firing guns on New Year's eve is a Baltimore tradition. Maybe so, maybe not; but this is one tradition the city does not need. Perpetrators are often high on drugs or drink and have no regard for the consequences of their actions. They are even too ignorant to consider a basic law of ballistics: What goes up, comes down.

New Year's Eve gunfire is another symptom of disintegrating public order in Baltimore, where motorists routinely run red lights, pedestrians prefer streets to sidewalks and litter pavements by discarding anything from hot dog wrappers to soft drink bottles.

Our New Year's wish is that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the rest of Baltimore's elected officials would finally see the light and crack down on all kinds of anti-social activity, from panhandling to graffiti. As the remarkable success of New York City shows, toughness on nuisance complaints can lead to an overall reduction in crime. In following New York, Baltimore has nothing to lose.

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