Reporting on crime in the city is painful

This just In. . .

April 09, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I seem to have ticked off a lot of people for reporting that a corporate executive and his wife had decided against buying a $339,000 house in downtown Baltimore after being robbed at gunpoint in Federal Hill during an evening stroll. I was accused of making a mountain out of a molehill, making the city look worse than it is, validating suburban prejudices against Baltimore. David Cordish, a big developer in this town, says my "dishonest" reporting did "tremendous psychological damage" to Federal Hill.

Of course, Cordish's letter was composed before we -- Sun crime reporter Peter Hermann and I -- further reported that, after the March 21 robbery of the couple, at least nine more holdups occurred during the next seven days in Federal Hill and Otterbein, with one near Rash Field, on the south rim of the Inner Harbor. A 12-year-old boy was among several young guys arrested in the robberies after police swarmed over the neighborhoods.

It was a classic case of have-nots knocking on the door of the haves, with young up-to-no-goods taking unregistered cabs to the Inner Harbor from their West Baltimore neighborhoods, then walking through Federal Hill and Otterbein, looking for someone to rob.

Still, that doesn't make Federal Hill and Otterbein high-crime areas. In fact, police have statistics showing otherwise. That's why Cordish, whose company is turning the Power Plant at the Inner Harbor into an exciting entertainment and retail complex, thinks my March 26 column was dishonest -- because I gave the impression that Federal Hill, in particular, is not safe. He called my original column on the March 21 holdup "sensational and misleading."

Cordish writes: "A number of the people who work at the Cordish Company live in Federal Hill, including my son, and none of them have ever been accosted personally or had their cars or houses burglarized. People are robbed at gunpoint in the counties every day and are not featured in your column. By featuring this unfortunate incident, in a manner which implied and gave the impression that it was a regular occurrence, your article was dishonest reporting."

Cordish seems to be suggesting that, unless certain crimes are regular, they don't have lasting impact.

And he seems to suggest that I was picking on Federal Hill.

But I would have reported the story -- newcomers to Baltimore held up, change their minds about buying an area house -- no matter where it occurred, had I been tipped to it.

And further news to Cordish: I would not have relished it. I do not enjoy sticking pins in Baltimore, and I get incensed when I hear -- frequently on talk radio and often in casual conversation -- people who have no connection or commitment to the city smugly doing so.

I have further news for Cordish: Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor do not the city make. When I wrote that column, it was a way of screaming at City Hall about the general state of affairs in this LTC town. There are long stretches of rowhouse Baltimore -- on a clear day, you can make them out from the observation windows in the World Trade Center -- that have been hit hard by drug-related crime, beaten down by it, for decades. Even the mayor acknowledges that the city's declining population -- it has plunged by 60,000 residents since 1990, to its lowest level in eight decades -- has been fueled by what he calls "safety." He means crime.

There are many stable neighborhoods, many relatively safe enclaves.

But you'd have to be a fool not to see what's been happening out along the drug-infested edges, in the marginal neighborhoods where Baltimore's economic and social disparity clash on a regular basis. It's what the city's foremost cheerleader, William Donald Schaefer, at long last acknowledged "the other Baltimore."

The day Cordish's letter arrived, so did this one -- from East Baltimore resident Frederick Schumann, who lives on South Washington Street.

"This city has a wonderful playground for those that can afford it," he writes. "Most of my neighbors can't afford drinks and dinner at a new downtown hotel, followed by the symphony. It is a shame that inner-city kids can't afford to see their heroes at Camden Yards. Apparently these things are for the people that 'count.' . . Residents of east, west and south Baltimore are well aware of another Baltimore that includes drugs and violence.

The charm in 'Charm City' is rapidly decreasing. How many people in the suburbs or in those islands of opulence within the city have a 50/50 chance that the first person they see outside their door each morning is either a dealer or a user?"

All is not lost. Downtown is in the midst of a second renaissance, in part because of men like David Cordish. But the neighborhoods -- where people live -- need to survive.

We need people like Frederick Schumann on South Washington Street in East Baltimore. Problem is, his house is for sale.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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