Terror at home

Fear: City leaders can't forget about the violence that affects so many Baltimoreans.

September 24, 2001

THE KIDS at Baltimore's Lake Clifton High School feel scared, threatened and vulnerable. Just like the rest of America.

They worry about retaliation and what that might mean. They think maybe they'd like to hear the shrill whine of metal detectors at the front doors of their school.

They're probably losing sleep like the rest of the country, but not over the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Their terror is Baltimore's violent crime rate, a long-time and frequent visitor upon their school community. Last week, a 17-year-old was shot twice outside the school. And last January, another student was killed near the front entrance.

Reminder to Baltimoreans: Even as America readies for a war on terrorism, this city can't back off the war on violence in its streets.

In deference to the nation's sorrow over the terrorist attacks, The Sun's editorial page hasn't been running the weekly "Dead by Murder" box that keeps track of homicide statistics. But that doesn't mean the body count has ceased climbing.

As of midnight last Thursday, 173 Baltimoreans had been slain this year. That's fewer than the 206 who'd been killed by this time last year, but still seven more than were dead two weeks ago.

This city isn't ready to declare victory over violent crime. Not by far. The police department needs more officers and equipment and training. The state's attorney's office needs more money, more vigilance and a stronger track record. And the courts need better organization.

These issues must haunt Baltimoreans and their leaders at least as much as the heightened fears of terrorist attacks. They must inspire everyone to a long-term and unwavering commitment to eradicating the senseless violence that dominates too many Baltimore lives.

Mayor Martin O'Malley responded swiftly and sternly to the terrorist attacks. He hired an out-of-town consultant to enhance the city's emergency plans and said Baltimore would become the "poster child for civic preparedness." Good ideas, both.

But the mayor would do well to recall the rallying cries he used during his campaign, the promises he made to focus like a laser on violent crime in Baltimore. The city is counting on him to stop the carnage. The kids at Lake Clifton High need him to make their world safe again.

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