Saving Baltimore's streets

June 15, 2000|By Martin O'Malley

BALTIMORE is not yet safe. But corner by corner, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, our city is getting safer.

One day after the 56th anniversary of the Allies gaining a beachhead in Normandy on D-Day, we served notice that the liberation of Baltimore's neighborhoods from the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week occupation of drug dealers has begun.

In six months, we have established our beachhead by reclaiming 10 notorious corners from the despair of the illegal drug trade. The Allies did not stop at Normandy, and we will not stop until open-air drug markets no longer exist in Baltimore - and we are the safest big city in America.

Last June, when I announced my candidacy for mayor on the corner of Harford Road and The Alameda, I said the opposing forces of hope and despair could not co-exist on the same corner. I pledged that six months after I took office, the open-air drug market on that corner and nine others would be bad memories from our city's past.

On June 7, thanks to the hard work of community leaders fighting to take back their neighborhoods - like Robert Nowlin in Pen Lucy and George Gilliam and Myrtle Howerton on Pennsylvania Avenue, and thanks to the hard work of our police officers, who put their lives on the line to keep us safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week - the 10 drug corners we identified at the beginning of this year are no longer open for business. We intend to keep them that way.

Hope is finally pushing out despair. What has been, for too many years, Baltimore's most destructive growth industry is finally beginning to shrink.

No one has been killed on any of the 10 targeted drug corners this year.

Robberies are down by 55 percent.

Aggravated assaults are down by 45 percent.

Calls for service are down by 43 percent, from 4,740 to 2,702 - and drug-related calls for service are down by 65 percent, from 1,518 to 534.

Homicides are down by 40 percent, compared with last year, in the larger displacement areas surrounding each corner. And drug-dealing arrests are up by nearly 20 percent in the larger displacement areas.

In addition to anti-crime initiatives in the first 10 neighborhoods: 612 addicts were guided to treatment; 355 tons of trash were removed from alleys and lots; 599 sanitation citations were issued; and 213 job referrals were made for unemployed residents.

This effort is far from over; in fact, it's just beginning. And it consists of more than just law enforcement. Community leaders, nonprofit agencies, members of the clergy, the Police Department, the Health Department, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Works are working together to make a difference in thousands of lives.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a front-page story, "Blighted Areas Are Revived As Crime Rate Falls in Cities." It began:

"From Boston to New Orleans and Los Angeles to Miami, neighborhoods where drug gangs controlled the streets, commandeered empty houses and terrorized residents are beginning to seem safer and more livable."

Baltimore was notably missing from the list of safer cities. But we should draw hope from the success other cities have had in dramatically reducing crime.

The people of Baltimore have reason to be optimistic. We have seen what a difference concerted action can make. A recent poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications reported that 66 percent of the people in Baltimore believe our drive to shut down 10 open-air drug markets has made a positive impact.

These initial 10 corners are just the beachhead in what will be a persistent struggle to liberate our city. We have not yet won, but we have gained ground. As a city, we have reclaimed homes, neighborhoods and lives.

Much more remains to be done. The people of this city are up to the challenge.

Martin O'Malley is mayor of Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.