Thugs cross the line in East Baltimore

Violence: Mid-street shootout shows who's in control in the city's battle against violence.

May 30, 2001

IT'S TIME to push back.

Monday night's attempted massacre on East North Avenue trashed any sense of civility or livability in Baltimore. It shattered our collective belief in common decency, which should have made the would-be killers think twice before opening up on a crowd gathered at a "Rest in Peace" party to mourn a fallen friend.

There's just one appropriate response to this kind of unchecked aggression: an equal and opposite effort by Police Commissioner Edward Norris and his officers to rein in the violence.

It's time to push back.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and Mr. Norris already have the right idea. For the past year they have led a serious crackdown on the drug trade -- the primary source of the violence -- that had begun to pay dividends.

The number of murders and shootings declined. It seemed like the city had perhaps turned an important corner in its quest for safety.

But Monday's incident spoiled that notion. The thugs who did the shooting just walked up and opened fire on a crowd, which was gathered outdoors on a major street. They took their time, firing more than 40 shots and sending 12 people to area hospitals (including one to the morgue) before escaping.

Was it a drug-inspired payback? Maybe. But the nature of the incident reeked of unshirted bravado and unrestrained impunity.

It proves that despite everything that has been accomplished in Baltimore's assault on violence, there are shiftless incorrigibles in the community who just don't get it. They'll kill whomever they want, wherever they find them, whenever they feel like it.

It's time to push back.

Mr. Norris and his police desperately need help. They need a massive influx of new officers to make it possible -- if necessary -- to have a cop on every drug corner in the city. They need new equipment to enable surveillance as sophisticated as any intelligence agency.

In short, they need to demonstrate enough presence -- and the threat of force -- to deter any group of wannabe killers from fulfilling their pipe dreams.

Most important, they'll need a commitment from city and state officials to deliver on those things. Mr. O'Malley has already cut every city department's budget to get more money to the police, and has promised to do more.

City Council, on the other hand, has nosed into the Police Department's internal politics with more passion than it has confronted the recent spate of killings. Wouldn't it be nice to see Council President Sheila Dixon and her colleagues as rankled over the violence as they were over perceived racial tensions among officers?

State officials, too, have been less than enthusiastic in their support. Gov. Parris Glendening's 2001 budget included no new money to fight crime in the city. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who chairs the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, has also failed to make that body an unwavering champion of law and order in the city.

She did call the mayor yesterday to suggest a city-state collaborative effort to ensure this incident doesn't set off a wave of violent retaliation. She also offered to have parole and probation officials help identify the shooters.

But both she and the governor have been noticeably absent from leadership positions on this issue. Neither has effectively used the bully pulpit to build support for the city's efforts statewide.

It's time to push back.

We need the governor to come through for Baltimore this time -- with rhetoric and money. We need Ms. Townsend to show enough leadership to make her council an instrumental partner in the fight to reclaim Baltimore's streets.

The thugs have made clear what their agenda is, and what they're willing to do to accomplish it.

People of good faith can do the same, or cede control of our city forever.

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