It's time to call in a favor: Let's find this thug

March 01, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

I don't usually do this -- use the column for something personal. But this hasn't been the usual kind of week around here, at The Sun, and I don't regard the beating of Carl Schoettler, my friend, mentor and colleague for nearly 30 years, as strictly a personal matter.

Somewhere out there is the gutless thug who kicked one of Baltimore's finest writers repeatedly in the head on a city street, a block or two from police headquarters, and sent him to Shock Trauma. This coward attacked a 73-year-old man, and, still at-large, he could do that to anyone -- or at least anyone's grandfather or grandmother. So what I want to do today, while the doctors and nurses at University Hospital take care of Carl, is to take care of a little business.

I'm looking for the return of a favor.

I want to get the guy who did this to Carl, and I'm asking some of the new readers of this column -- Darrell, Tyrone, Chuck, Wendell, Deon, Karen, Monique, Steve, Jermaine, Harry and about 1,000 others -- to help the police make an arrest.

All of you have criminal records. All of you have spent significant time on the street and in prison. All of you have been into drugs, selling or using. You've all called here in the past nine months, looking for help finding jobs or getting drug treatment. You did that because, for a variety of reasons -- sick of jail, sick of the hustle, tired of being tired -- you are motivated to make positive change in your lives.

Some of you committed armed robbery, or strong-arm robbery.

But the vast majority of you never were convicted of a crime of violence.

And, whatever your crimes, you tell me they are in the past. You say you want to move on to a better place.

So help me out here, and help your city.

If you know anything about this crime -- if you know someone who knows something about this attack, if you're familiar with the guys who hang around Fayette Street and City Hall Plaza -- then call the police. It's a small town. Somebody knows what happened here.

Make a phone call.

But don't do it because I'm asking for a favor, or because The Sun threw in extra reward money.

Do it because it's the right thing.

You have a chance to become good citizens -- working, contributing, caring, taxpaying, child-supporting Baltimoreans. We have not given up on you. We hold out hope for a real generational break in Baltimore's long, dreary cycle of addiction, crime and violence.

So let's get to it.

Too often we accept things as they are. We can't seem to think of the city without all this ugliness. Baltimore is such a great half-city. We've made all this progress, but it's been nearly muted by the constant scream from the Other Baltimore -- drug addiction, repeated criminality, broken families and fatherless children, ignorance, poverty. The most severe social problems and the violence are concentrated in a few parts of town, and we abide it -- as if it is somehow contained to East Baltimore and West Baltimore, and the rest of Baltimore is Canton.

But there are no real lines, or boundaries, and the Other Baltimore can emerge any time and almost anywhere -- as it did the other night, when a 73-year-old man got out of his car after a fender-bender near City Hall.

Amazing fact: Baltimore faces today the same challenge -- reinventing, physically and culturally, whole parts of itself -- that it faced 30 years ago, when I arrived here to work for The Evening Sun. Carl Schoettler was at the peak of his long reign as king of the newsroom, the finest prose stylist on staff and a well-read authority on just about everything. He was a savvy city-dweller, walked long distances, and sometimes rode a bike around town. He has always been fit and trim, and only started to look like a man in his early 70s a week or so ago.

Carl knows all of Baltimore's charms and its evils. He has a huge heart, with special affection for starving artists, justice-seekers, the underdog and the downtrodden.

He and I agree on a lot of things -- for one, that the so-called war on drugs and the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders is a waste of time and money. We've been over this many times. The corrections system needs to be reformed to provide rehabilitation of criminals before they come out of prison and return to their thuggish, destructive ways.

Carl has been a source of inspiration for many of us for all these years -- not just as a great reporter and writer, but as a good citizen and thoughtful social critic. (He threw some awesome fits when copy editors adjusted his prose without his permission -- they used to refer to Carl as "The Messerschmitt" -- and the Environmental Protection Agency could list his cluttered desk in the newsroom as a Superfund site. )

But that's enough about Carl, for now.

This isn't just about him, really, or about nabbing his attacker, though that would be a grand thing.

This is a call to all of you who are closer to Baltimore's problems -- starting with crime -- than the vast majority of people reading this column. The generational break needs to start with you. You are the ones who live this life or are one step removed from it. You're on the front lines. You have to get into the act of being sober, smart, vigilant citizens and taking back your city.

I know it's easier said than done, but I don't care. It must get done, or this city is doomed.

So many of you have called here to express desire to live better, and there are a lot of people in this town who are glad to help. But you need to do more. You need to return the favor. You need to save yourselves, and save your city.

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