Giving up Baltimore block by city block

THIS JUST IN ...

February 17, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

PARTLY as a result of Baltimore's unofficial policy of surrender - giving up whole city blocks without much of a fight to save them - we have the 29-year-old drug dealer who cruises in a Rolls-Royce, with armed escorts in a Humvee, and collects rent on some of the 120 slum properties he owns. One wonders why George Dangerfield's landlord styling did not draw the attention of government officials while he was in the midst of building his real estate empire.

Now that he has one, no one seems to know what to do about it. Dan Henson, our street-smart housing commissioner, finds the prospect maddening, but seems almost resigned to buying George Dangerfield out with tax dollars to execute urban renewal plans for East Baltimore. The vaunted U.S. attorney's office, armed with stacks of anti-drug laws and the power to confiscate property of drug dealers, gives bureaucratic excuses. The police and courts haven't been able to put Dangerfield out of business yet, either. He's beaten drug charges several times and, for leading state and local police on a high-speed chase, got a six-month jail sentence. No wonder he's arrogant. No wonder he told a tenant, ``As far as you're concerned, I am the law.''

Wanted: A new mayor, someone with a sense of outrage, who won't surrender another inch of the city without a fight.

It could be our kids

They live everywhere, even in the nicest neighborhoods - people who decry society's conditions but either don't want to do anything about it or actually fight those who do.

This common human condition is exposed in the matter of the group home for eight juvenile offenders proposed for a large house in Worthington Valley of Baltimore County. People who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for homes out there are fixing to fight a clinical social worker named Bruce Bertell because he had the audacity to propose putting emotionally disturbed teen-age boys in a half-million-dollar Colonial near them.

Why the blowup? The usual reasons - property values will plummet, families will be threatened, etc. We've heard all that before. (I heard it once in Cockeysville when a woman proposed a group home for infants and toddlers born with the AIDS virus.) Everyone supports the do-gooder until the do-gooder wants to do good down the street. (''It takes a village to raise a child, but please do it in someone else's village.'') Everyone thinks institutionalization is a bad idea until the breakup of the institution means people in distress will be sprinkled into our communities and, of course, will ravage them.

But people who have worked in or near the criminal justice system, including the Baltimore County executive, know a simple fact of life: Without intervention, today's juvenile offender is tomorrow's adult criminal. Paul Alpert, a veteran of the Maryland bench for 26 years, made the same comment last week in this space. I've heard it from people in law enforcement, from social workers, schoolteachers, physicians and cabdrivers.

For their willingness to intervene and to break the cycle of bad boys becoming bad men, organizations such as Bertell's Family Advocacy Services should be embraced, not scorned; helped, not hindered.

It takes imagination to do that. It takes a willingness to think, to consider, even the possibility that each of us, no matter what our current social station, could come one day to rely on the mercy and understanding of others. It could be our kids who become transgressors. It could be our kids who need help.

Birds made him do it

Joey Amalfitano reports:

``I thought I'd heard it all until last Friday in traffic court in Bel Air. Judge Emory Plitt was sitting, hearing all sorts of tales why folks had violated the moving laws of Maryland. (I was there, sadly, because I got caught moving too fast on Route 24 in Harford County.) Anyway, this guy gets up before the judge and says, 'Guilty with an explanation.' He started his story - new car, beautiful day, windows rolled down. 'And judge,' he said, 'there was this flock of birds!' Plitt leaned back in his chair; the courtroom groaned. The guy then explained how one of the birds 'bombarded' him, splashing his car, his rear view mirror and his face. The judge nearly fell out of his leather chair. Those of us waiting for our turn couldn't control our laughter. 'Judge, I'm serious,' the guy pleaded. 'It was in my face, it was hard to see, I had to finally pull over and I had to speed up to get this stuff out of my face.' Well, believe it or not, the story floated, fine as a flock of birds, because he had an excellent witness - a Maryland state trooper who was laughing with the rest of us and who confirmed everything. The judge gave the guy probation before judgment.''

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