Larry Young does city no favors with tirade

May 15, 2001|By Michael Olesker

I WASTED two hours of my life yesterday listening to Larry Young on the radio. The disgraced former state senator now poisons the public airwaves, decrying what he called "the bleaching of Baltimore," a phrase he used maybe three dozen times yesterday.

Somewhere, a member of the Ku Klux Klan is inquiring, "How come he gets to use language like that without being called a racist - and we can't?"

The bleaching of Baltimore, indeed. Young said this in the wake of last week's removal of four top-level Baltimore police officers. Two are black, two white. In his morning tirade, Young focused exclusively on the two black officers. One is Barry Powell, the former deputy commissioner, taking the fall at the end of a 42-day period in which at least 40 people were killed in the city of Baltimore.

Does it matter that almost all of the victims were black? Apparently not to Young - although it did to some of his callers. What mattered to Young was that Powell, the highest-ranking black police officer, and Col. James Hawkins, caught embarrassingly in a botched sting operation, were removed. And that they are black. And that, in Young's thinking, this represents some sort of conspiracy among powerful white people to rid the police department of high-ranking black officers.

"I'm telling you, Baltimore, it is time to wake up," Young declared on WOLB radio yesterday. "We have developed a generation of spooks afraid to wake up. People laid down their lives so we could sit in the City Council, in the state legislature. ... It's the bleaching of our city."

Larry Young used to be a figure of hope, instead of a man reaching for a few ratings points to show potential advertisers. He served in the General Assembly, and he knew more about health legislation than anybody, and he cared about constituents struggling to keep their lives together when the system seemed stacked against them.

But he cared even more about padding his own wallet - so outrageously that he was the first state legislator in a century to be expelled from its membership. Now, instead of making legislation, he makes trouble. He asks a city to choose up sides by race when he should know better.

"We're gonna take our city back," Young declared yesterday.

From whom?

"Some of us have to show we're not shameless, we're not spineless spooks, and we're not gonna let this thing happen," Young said.

Which thing?

In two hours, Young trafficked in innuendo. He never said specifically that Mayor Martin O'Malley or Commissioner Edward Norris were racists. He just implied it. In two hours, he never mentioned the long-simmering tension between Norris and Powell over daily operations, and never mentioned the tragedy of 40 homicides in six weeks while Powell was running those operations, and never mentioned contentiousness among Powell and other high-ranking officers.

He never mentioned that Hawkins not only botched a sting operation but infuriatingly disguised his voice on a 911 call - stuttering in a way many likened to a minstrel show performance - and that Powell was believed to have taken part in that sting operation with Hawkins. Powell denies that.

On the radio yesterday, one of Larry Young's callers declared, "The Klan has traded their white sheets for blue suits."

"My, my," Young said. "The bleaching of our city. How do you feel about it, Baltimore? What do you want to do about it?"

Actually, not everyone wanted to do anything.

One caller told Young, "After 12 years of crime rising and rising under Kurt Schmoke, I'm willing to try a Chinese police commissioner. Understand? I'm willing to go to Hawaii, I don't care."

Young quickly moved to another caller. He got a man who said he'd risen to the No. 2 position in his corporation. Like Powell in the police department. Young saw what was coming - or thought he did.

"If someone is not meeting standards," the caller said, "you give direction. You sit them down with dignity. You hold them accountable."

The caller said he was now the No. 1 man in his corporation. Larry Young quickly said, "I gotta move on."

A week ago, the city marked Norris' first year as police commissioner by noting the drop in shootings and homicides - despite the renewed violence of the past six weeks.

As Norris took a few bows, Powell stood nearby. On the radio yesterday, Young asked how Powell could be standing so close to Norris one day, and get the ax so soon afterward.

Then he took a call. The caller gave him one answer. When Norris was claiming a drop in crime, he pointed out, the commissioner's critics - including some local politicians - called the figures bogus. There hasn't been any drop in crime, they contended.

Now that Powell is gone, the caller said, these same critics are asking how he could be removed when crime has dropped.

"These politicians," the caller said, "have proven to be liars. The fact is, the people of Baltimore care less about color than we do about reduction of crime."

Young moved to another caller. He should move on - to a new point of view.

He hurts himself and his city every time he pushes the race button without cause. Information is power, his station declares. Information - not innuendo. And not cries of racism in a city that finds so many other ways to kill itself.

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