Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

January 18, 2003

A city beset by crime needs tough tactics

Douglas Colbert is surprised more officials are not deeply moved by the fact that arrested people who can't make bail are left incarcerated until trial ("Baltimore's pretrial injustice," Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 6). He proposes that nonviolent offenders be immediately released and put under "supervised detention."

I recommend that Mr. Colbert talk to some law-abiding Baltimoreans who live in distressed neighborhoods in addition to the detainees awaiting trial. He would quickly discover we are sick and tired of criminals getting off easy for so-called "nonviolent" crimes.

We have a revolving-door justice system, and Mr. Colbert's proposal would only speed up the revolving door.

Anyone who lives in the city knows drug dealers and other criminals do business on our streets with impunity for a very long time before getting arrested. When they finally are arrested, it feels like a blessing. If they are gone for more than a week, it is a godsend.

If Baltimore were not so besieged with crime, perhaps city residents would have more compassion for the plight of those arrested.

But sadly, the way things are now, Mr. Colbert's proposal amounts to nothing more than yet another way to reinforce the rights of offenders while eroding the peace and good-will of law-abiding citizens.

Angelo Trivelli

Baltimore

I am certain much of what Douglas Colbert says is accurate. Many of the city's poor are being warehoused in jails. They are kept in what might seem to be deplorable conditions.

Mr. Colbert's suggestion is to "put into practice" the state policy that would guarantee liberty to some of the people arrested for "minor crimes."

Ten years ago, I would have applauded the professor's argument. But I am a bit more hesitant to do so now.

While I agree that the jails are overcrowded, I do not blame the "escalating arrest policy" of our police officers.

The fact is that our city is beset by crime. The citizenry demands an effective and efficient policy of dealing with crime - any crime that severely impacts our quality of life, including crimes Mr. Colbert would call "minor" - i.e. public urination, prostitution, petty theft.

What strikes me about Mr. Colbert's position, and those of others who defend those caught in the criminal justice system, is that I never hear a call to the criminals to stop committing crimes.

But freedom is a privilege. Liberty is a privilege. Those who behave in a manner that threatens the well-being of society as a whole run the risk of losing their freedom.

Those who commit crimes - of whatever seriousness - need to take stock of their actions, not cry foul when they end up in jail.

And their defenders need to realize that ordinary citizens are weary of living in a city in which safety is at a premium.

Haydee M. Rodriguez

Baltimore

Jail warehouses the city's poor

I spent Christmas Eve in jail. I am not a criminal defendant but a third-year student at the University of Maryland School of Law. And, as part of a study for the Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, I interviewed 30 men in the city's pretrial jails.

Everything that I observed that day leads me to this conclusion: The bail system has become punitive and functions solely to incarcerate people rather than regulate behavior.

People are spending up to 100 days in jail without ever being convicted of a crime. Their only offense is being too poor to afford bails as low as $35.

These people are not violent offenders, and most have lived in Baltimore their entire lives. They pose no risk of flight and are no danger to the community. They are the community.

They are almost exclusively incarcerated for misdemeanor drug violations. Their failure is our failure, and our response is our shame.

Baltimore can no longer warehouse its problems at the city jail.

Kathryn Insley

Baltimore

People of character build a great city

In the eyes of famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, Baltimore is a place whose government and citizens must accept as reality that up is down and right is wrong.

According to the Jan. 8 Sun, Mr. Cochran is threatening to sue the city, claiming that the city bears some responsibility for the tragic deaths of seven members of the Dawson family who perished as victims, allegedly, of a drug dealer's retaliatory firebomb ("Anti-drug campaign blamed in Dawson arson deaths").

Part of the planned lawsuit's claim will be that the "Believe" campaign caused the Dawson family to put itself in danger by reporting drug dealers to police. Mr. Cochran is apparently reasoning that the Dawsons were victims not of a cowardly criminal act, but of a reckless ad campaign.

While displaying Mr. Cochran's trademark cleverness, this claim dishonors the memory of the Dawsons by implying that their attempt to rid the neighborhood of drug dealers was simply a blind reaction to a slogan rather than an act of tremendous bravery.

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