In a hearing on a bill named after a Baltimore family who police said were killed in a notorious act of drug violence, federal, state and local officials yesterday called for everything from more officers to tighter port security to more youth activities to combat the war on drugs.
They also stressed the importance of assuring city residents that when they alert police to neighborhood drug activity they won't lose their lives -- as did Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children in October.
"Unfortunately, the Dawson family tragedy highlights what we face here in Baltimore," Preston Grubbs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said at a hearing at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Grubbs mentioned several DEA efforts under way here, including the Mass Transit Initiative, which focuses on targeting drug transportation and smuggling organizations moving through the Baltimore area.
Most of the speakers mentioned the Dawsons, who died of injuries sustained in an arson at their East Preston Street home. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who is sponsoring the Dawson Family Community Protection Act, said in a news conference outside the hearing that their deaths inspired his bill, which would provide up to $1 million each to Baltimore and other drug-ravaged cities annually.
The bill has been passed in subcommittee and could come up on the House floor this week.
"I think it took the tragic deaths of Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children ... sometimes we know what to do, but we just don't have the will to do it," Cummings said. "I don't think we would be where we are today with this legislation without that tragedy happening. I wish I could say differently."
One of the more outspoken panelists at the hearing was Mayor Martin O'Malley, who said much of Baltimore's crime woes stem from an attitude that the deaths of young black men are less significant than deaths of white people.
"Twenty-one children have been killed so far this year, a record, and they're virtually all African-American kids," O'Malley said. "I doubt very seriously as a society that if they were white children our response would be as slow."
More attention must be focused on drug-infested neighborhoods everywhere, O'Malley said.
"We cannot allow any block, any house, any neighborhood in these United States of America to become ruled by drug dealers," he said, prompting cheers from some in the audience.
Since the Dawsons died, police have stepped up their presence in East Oliver, where they lived.
But the Rev. Robert C. Burley Sr., president of the Oliver Community Association, warned that another incident like the one that killed the Dawsons could happen again if more isn't done.
He also spoke of a dire need for more programs for the city's youth.
"If we don't find something for our children to do, others will," Burley said.
Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said that children as young as 12 are being used to peddle drugs. "It's critical we reach the low-risk kids and the medium-risk kids," Clark said.
Clark pointed to statistics from December through May that he says highlight his department's success: the arrest of more than 775 street-level drug dealers and the development of 47 confidential informants.
"My strategy is to arrest my way to the core of the problem, the profiteers, the ones making the money off of it," Clark said. "I want to take their money, I want to take their cars, I want to take their houses, I want to take everything they have."