PAL Centers must stay open to protect the city's...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

February 16, 2000

PAL Centers must stay open to protect the city's children

During the recent snowstorm, Mayor Martin O'Malley gained kudos for his concern for senior citizens, which suggested a commitment to the needs of the community, especially those of its most vulnerable members.

The mayor's support for the planned closing of nine Police Athletic League (PAL) centers raises serious questions about that commitment ("Daniel says 9 PAL sites will be shut," Feb. 9).

Unprotected, unsupervised and idle, children in many neighborhoods are at risk of being victimized or of finding companionship and an illusory sense of security in street gangs.

PAL Centers step in where school ends and where families fail or need help.

They are the cheapest and simplest way of getting children off the street and engaging them in positive activities, whether by offering help with homework, encouraging reading or fostering friendship and social skills.

The fact that the PAL centers are staffed by police officers is an essential part of their success. The police presence warns off drug dealers who might otherwise use such centers to prey on vulnerable youths.

Police also scare off street gangs and instill respect in children who often do not have good adult role models or have problems respecting authority figures.

Staffing these centers with police makes neighborhoods safer and may reduce the number of drug dealers in them.

Doing away with something that works for the community means paying a much higher price later, by losing children to the dangerous streets of Baltimore.

As a therapist who has worked with these children for many years, I know what a precious resource PAL centers are. I hope the mayor will rethink his decision.

Sabine Oishi, Baltimore

The Police Athletic League centers must remain open. They have made a positive difference for the children of Waverly and surrounding communities.

More police on the streets may arrest suspects after crimes have been committed, but it takes the dedication of the officers of our PAL centers to prevent crime from happening, or from germinating in the minds of our youth.

Young people can go either way. Better that they be influenced by the police than by the gang leaders.

Myles Hoenig, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Waverly Improvement Association.

IRA's weapons aren't the key to peace in Ireland

The Sun's editorial "Now is the time for the IRA to disarm" (Feb. 7) argued that "Sinn Fein won't play by the rules," and "the game should go ahead without them."

That would be a huge mistake. It would negate the votes of 170,000 people who elected Sinn Fein officials.

IRA guns have been silent for the last five years and the IRA has repeatedly given assurances that it has no intention of returning to war. The new assembly is making progress, inch-by-inch.

Decommissioning is not the problem. The real dilemma is that the Unionists do not want to share power with Sinn Fein.

The Unionists delayed convening the new assembly for 18 months. Now they are using the decommissioning issue to destroy the assembly itself.

It is time to begin the process of demilitarization. A timetable for the British army to withdraw needs to be developed. The Royal Ulster Constabulary must be dismantled and replaced with a police force all the people can trust.

All paramilitary groups, the loyalists and the IRA, should begin decommissioning at the same time.

Democratic elections, power sharing and demilitarization are the cornerstone of peace with justice in Northern Ireland.

Willa Bickham

Brendan Walsh,

Baltimore

Larry Gibson's support for Gore hasn't wavered

A recent Sun article speculated about why I withdrew from the March 7 ballot as a delegate for Al Gore to the Democratic National Convention ("Gibson left off list of delegates for conventions," Feb. 8).

I withdrew from the ballot in favor of a member of the House of Delegates who had never attended a national convention and wanted very much to go to Los Angeles as a Gore delegate. I will attend the convention as a member of Mr. Gore's finance committee.

I fully support Mr. Gore, campaigned with him in New Hampshire, will campaign for him in Maryland, and look forward to his eight years as president.

Larry S. Gibson, Baltimore

Can the council president really do two full-time jobs?

In The Sun's article "Legislators, residents pan city raises," (Feb. 7) City Council President Sheila Dixon is quoted saying that, although the city's charter describes council positions as part-time, members "often work full-time" and she works "over 40 hours a week."

If so, when does Ms. Dixon perform her duties with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which pays her $56,000 a year?

I would be glad to volunteer to spend a day with Ms. Dixon to find out just how she manages that.

Marilyn Murray, Baltimore

I have no reason to doubt City Council President Sheila Dixon's statement that she has a demanding job that requires more than a 40 hour work week and merits the $80,000 yearly salary she now receives

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