Buyback program bad target for money

This Just In...

February 14, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

I SEE WHERE THE city has more federal money for another gun buyback program. You get $100 for handguns, $50 for long guns. Does that mean you get $75 for a sawed-off long gun? A gun buyback is great symbolism, but it doesn't achieve anything of lasting significance. (Most people who sell the guns do so because they never use them and want the cash.) Instead, that $286,000 from the Clinton administration could treat a lot of drug addicts, the heart of Baltimore's violent crime problem.

Or here's another suggestion: Take the gun funds, add it to the $500,000 Peter Angelos and other downtown movers are putting into a new west-side development agency that's probably redundant to the city's own development agency, and the mayor and police commish can keep those nine PAL centers open for kids. Do I have to figure everything out in this city?

Pass the mustard

That took some mustard for Mayor Martin O'Malley to go down to Annapolis on Friday and tell state legislators that court officials -- including Maryland's chief judge -- are wrong if they think Baltimore's court system is running smoothly again. "I'd like to throw up when I hear sworn judicial officers of this state saying we should have a celebration," Mayor Mustard said.

OK, so it wasn't Latin -- "Sic semper tyrannis," O'Malley said of Commish Frazier's departure last fall -- nor did it approach Shakespeare -- "I dispatch my opponents; I don't play in their entrails," he said of The Sun editorial board last month -- and it certainly didn't rise to the kind of rhetorical level we enjoyed during the Schaefer years. ("Do it now. Do it now. Not tomorrow. Do it now.") Maybe O'Malley shows his flippant side a little too often. Maybe he needs to think first before shooting from the lip. (He didn't serve the city's case well Friday when he said, "We need the cooperation and urgent commitment of our judiciary -- not to study this or think about this.")

But after 12 years of Sleepy Hollow, it's nice to hear some noise coming from City Hall again. If the O-Man seems angry or impatient at times, I'd say he represents his constituents well.

Confusion about Lincoln

I had to read twice some of the sentences that appeared in Friday's edition of this newspaper just to make sure Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a young Baltimore city councilman and grandson of legends in the civil rights movement, wasn't kidding about Abraham Lincoln.

Mitchell thinks it's foolish that Baltimore keeps Lincoln's birthday as a municipal holiday, which is why city offices were closed Friday and why neighbors on the other side of my street did not have their trash picked up.

Most of the country no longer distinguishes Abe's February birthday from George Washington's and we have Presidents Day, which, of course, was created by Congress to honor retailers and the operators of ski resorts.

Maybe it's odd that Baltimore still honors Lincoln -- a redundant holiday, a municipal inconvenience, an archaic clause in a labor contract.

But that's not the main argument Mitchell advanced in Friday's paper.

He thinks it's weird that Baltimore honors Lincoln because, after the outbreak of the Civil War and the Pratt Street mobbing of federal troops, Abe imposed martial law on the city, stationed more than 4,000 troops here, and jailed the mayor and a bunch of elected officials considered disloyal to the Union. (This is partly how Lincoln came to be known as "despot" and "tyrant" in our wonderful Confederate-inspired state song, "Maryland, My Maryland.")

Mitchell said: "We as citizens still celebrate Lincoln's holiday while we as council members most likely would still be locked up in Fort McHenry along with the mayor."

I know. I had to read that one twice, too. (He's saying -- what? -- that, were the Civil War held again today, he and Martin O'Malley would be whistlin' Dixie?)

And then there was this statement: "I'm still trying to figure out why we're celebrating it."

Right. That Abe -- one big, bad actor in American history.

Mitchell teaches history at Boys' Latin. Maybe his students could help him find a reason why Baltimore might take pride in being one of the few places in America that still honors Lincoln with a separate holiday. I'd start with the Emancipation Proclamation. About eight, very complex sentences. You'd have to read some of them twice, but there's definitely something there.

A crane and a prayer

Finally today, a TJI reader wants to know how award-winning Sun photographer Doug Kapustin -- I call him "Flutie" now -- managed an unusual photograph that accompanied this column Jan. 14. It was a heavenly view of the bronze statue of St. Leo the Great on its way, via crane, to its niche high in the brick facade of his namesake church in Little Italy.

Flutie explains: "The setup was simply a camera with a radio remote receiver plugged into the motor drive. I clamped the camera to the crane's hook -- actually the block just above it -- faced it directly down and tethered it with a safety strap. As the statue was being raised, I fired the transmitter from the ground and hoped one of the 36 frames would yield a usable image. Some photographers might call this a 'Hail Mary.' "

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