As he lay dying

October 24, 2002

ADD CARNELL DAWSON SR. to the growing list of casualties claimed by Baltimore's tempest of violence and its stepsister, complacency.

Add his life to those decimated in a cycle of malevolence that has become so routine in this city as to barely attract notice, let alone inspire change. Even as Mr. Dawson lay dying from burns that covered 80 percent of his body, drug dealers continued to push their poison in the neighborhood where the rest of his family was murdered last week. Even after he has long been buried, the culture that wiped out his family will endure.

At and around the house on East Preston Street where the Dawsons were murdered, there have been speeches and vigils and flowers and calls to action. But where is the action behind those calls?

Mayor Martin O'Malley's rally drew 1,000 people to East Preston and Eden streets, and he announced a 12-point plan for the area. How many of those points have been implemented?

Members of BUILD, the activist group working to strengthen the East Oliver neighborhood where the Dawsons lived, loudly criticized the mayor for not being more involved, but what are they doing?

And what about the neighborhood's other political leadership? State Sen. Nathaniel McFadden has appeared a number of times since the killings to show solidarity with residents, but he should already have the governor's ear (and those of his fellow legislators) about stronger state commitments to the neighborhood.

City Council members who represent the area should be talking with their colleagues about further local initiatives. By now, some action should be in the works and perhaps close to passing in the council. Want to bet that it isn't?

Part of the problem here may be that no one really knows what to do.

As the life story of the alleged perpetrator, Darrell Brooks, makes clear, the seeds of the Dawsons' misfortunes were planted years ago -- in a family whose structure had collapsed, a community that couldn't pick up the pieces, and a governmental safety net with holes so big you could throw a firebomb through them.

Last week's tragedy should have changed everything about the way people see crime in this city, and about the way the city's leadership responds. If it didn't, it won't be long before the Dawsons' fate is visited upon other Baltimore families.

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