On TV and in reality, Baltimore looks bad

`The Corner: ' Groundbreaking series should wake Baltimoreans from apathetic sleep.

April 19, 2000

LOS ANGELES has movies. New York has theater. Chicago boasts big shoulders and blustery winds. And Baltimore trumpets -- what? Crime? Drugs?

If you saw the debut of Charles "Roc" Dutton's "The Corner" Sunday on HBO, you know what we're talking about.

The stark, haunting images throughout this miniseries -- based on the book by former Sun reporter David Simon and former Baltimore detective Edward Burns -- will hardly work wonders for the city's tourism effort. When the show's principals aren't sticking needles into their arms, necks or backsides, they're dodging cops, terrorizing their neighbors and wandering about a real-life stage of abandoned houses, trash-strewn streets and dark alleys.

It's depressing and tragic. It makes Baltimore look bad -- much worse, in fact, than television's "Homicide" did. And you know what? We've earned every bit of it.

For as much as "The Corner" is the story of a human struggle to wrench free of the vice of drugs, it's also about a city that has allowed too many people to remain trapped in that cycle -- with all the related problems -- for too long.

It's about a police department that only recently discovered 20th-century enforcement concepts that have lowered crime rates in a half-dozen other cities. It's about judges and a state's attorney who believe that jailing dangerous criminals is some kind of risky barbarous political act. And it's about state and local governments that can't look far enough past their political disagreements to see a way to get help for some 60,000 drug addicts.

Baltimoreans can't escape blame, either. We were for too long comatose when confronted with the city's deterioration. Our schools, our neighborhoods and even our parks have become nightmares, even as many of our leaders stood by mouthing excuses. And what has been our response? Nothing.

The images in "The Corner" tell the story of our lives in Baltimore -- all of us. They're a stinging condemnation not only of the drug culture in our city, but of the utter failure of everyone who's not a part of it to do something about it.

We won't keep those images off national television without tweaking our sense of outrage about the problems that are rotting our city's core. We can't erase those images until we decide the battle for our streets is something in which we all must play a crucial part.

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