Divided city waits for us to confront the violence

January 11, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

What a great week for the city of Baltimore - Cal elected to the Hall of Fame, the Colts coming back for what will be an extravagantly emotional playoff game with the Ravens, 15 homicides in 10 days and an off-duty police officer shot to death in a street robbery.

Has there ever been a week when the visibility was better, when all of us could stand on the shoulders of one city and see the other one so clearly? Was there ever a time when the two Baltimores appeared fully in God's light - one shining with triumph and prosperity, the other broken and smoldering with violence and wasted lives?

Maybe you don't care to look. Maybe you don't care to think about it - this glorious week or ever. Maybe you figure that such is life in Harm City, and nothing can be done.

That's OK. It's a free country. You can jump to the sports page now.

The rest of you - those who have as much social conscience as civic pride, those who still give a damn - need to take a once-and-for-all look, while the visibility is high, and ask: What do we do to make this stop? When do we - and not just grieving families - say enough?

How long do those of us with the intellectual, political and financial resources abide this long, grinding cycle of poverty, addiction and human failure that leads to so many unnecessary deaths and national shame for our city?

The late author James Baldwin said: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Have we really faced it? Have we really dealt with it? Martin O'Malley is moving from City Hall to the governor's mansion; his administration made fighting crime a priority and scratched out some progress - annual homicides at last below 300 - but now what? What's the plan? Fifteen homicides in the first 10 days of 2007. Why don't we hear alarm bells?

President Bush wants to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, at a cost in the billions, when we need an army of social workers, police and public health officials to descend on this city to reverse the ruinous trends that, like Katrina through New Orleans, have torn apart large pieces of Baltimore.

When will the people of Maryland - the second-wealthiest state, flush with brilliant men and women with advanced degrees - put our minds together on this? We've made numerous and impressive technological advances but failed repeatedly on the human front. We've filled our prisons, built new ones and filled those. We've neglected the juvenile justice system, neglected the public schools that needed the most attention. We put two or three generations of drug addicts in prison instead of providing treatment. We still don't have economic opportunity on the scale and quality that existed during our industrial glory days, and we still buy the lie of a trickle-down economy.

We don't even seem to be ashamed of all this.

Shame would drive us to reshuffle our priorities and resolve this unfinished business.

No doubt, it should be a wonderful week, with Baltimore basking in the floodlights of national attention because of Cal, and because of the looming Ravens game with the Baltimore Colts.

This Saturday, we are going to see dozens of healthy young men play a football game in the stadium at the edge of downtown Baltimore.

And somewhere, maybe only a few blocks from the game, there will be other healthy young men killing or being killed.

The one who is accused of shooting the police officer had at least 17 arrests on his criminal record, including two arrests in the past year for handgun violations. And yet he was out on the free streets.

The suspect is 21 years old. With at least 17 arrests, it's safe to say he had an early start in crime. It's safe to say the system did not save him from the cycle or the street. And a good police officer named Troy Lamont Chesley paid the ultimate price for that failure - and it could have happened to anyone unfortunate enough to be on that sidewalk.

Yesterday, I spoke to one of the dozens of young men who have called here (410-332-6166) in the past few weeks for help in finding employment. His name was Jaimar. He is 23 years old and only two weeks out of prison on a robbery conviction.

I suggested he contact STRIVE Baltimore, one of the handful of programs that try to help young ex-offenders find their way to work and a stable life. I also told him to go on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to the job fair at St. Frances Academy Community Center, 501 E. Chase St. (410-539-5794, Ext. 30).

I asked Jaimar to stay busy, stay focused and stay off the street. I mentioned the 15 killings in 10 days.

"I know," he said. "My little homeboy died just a few weeks ago. He was my friend."

He gave me his friend's name. I looked it up and confirmed the homicide. It happened late on the night of Dec. 6 in Belair-Edison. Jaimar's "little homeboy" was 19. He died of multiple gunshot wounds.

That's how common this is in Baltimore: I return the call of a 23-year-old named Jaimar, and he tells me about the death of a 19-year-old just a bit more than a month ago and just a block or so from Jaimar's house.

We've got to do something or this tragedy will live here forever, on and on, generation after generation, and Baltimore will always be divided, cracked, broken and sick. It will never be all that it could be. It will never be whole.dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays on "The Buzz" on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.