Baltimore's unfinished business - we can help

January 21, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

A notable thing happened after a recent column on the bloody beginning of Baltimore's year, with 10 homicides in its first 15 days: Dozens of people called or wrote to say they wanted to do something about it. They can't stand it anymore. They believe it's time to drop the candlelight vigils, turn off the television and build a movement to end Baltimore's national shame. Some of them actually said it that way.

For too long, men and women - and particularly young black men - have been dying violently on the streets of one Baltimore while the other Baltimore, extending into the stable suburbs, goes about its business, mostly detached from nearby reality, yet absorbed in edgy television dramas, glassy-eyed at the latest news, mustering an occasional shake of the head, or crying outrage when a police officer dies.

With few exceptions, our politicians refrain from addressing this with urgency. And except for the neighborhoods and families immediately affected, the violence in Baltimore might as well be the violence in Anbar province.

FOR THE RECORD - A column by Dan Rodricks in Sunday's editions incorrectly stated the number of homicides in Baltimore in early January. There were 15 homicides in the first 10 days. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

On a personal level, many of us feel as powerless about the wee-hour street killings as we do about global warming. That's understandable. We have abided a culture of hopelessness, failure, criminality and violence - fed by poverty, ignorance, family dysfunction and drug addiction - through too many generations now. How do you reverse all that?

But breaking this cycle, which sends so many young men to prison or to the grave and holds Baltimore back from greatness, is fundamental to our claim as a city with a future.

This, plus stabilizing and improving the public education system, constitutes our great unfinished business, and it really should be the business of every citizen of Maryland; we have some of the wealthiest and smartest in the nation here.

We have the second-highest per capita income, the second-highest concentration of doctoral scientists and the second-highest concentration of residents over 25 with graduate degrees. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development further brags that we are first in doctoral scientists employed in mathematics, health and biology.

With such a wealth of financial and intellectual resources, why can't we figure this out?

You might be shocked to know that some organizations and good people in Baltimore have done just that. They have figured it out - how to save kids, how to get families out of poverty, how to break the chains of addiction and repeated incarceration - and you are going to be reading more about them in this space over the course of this year. They need more recognition, more support and more funding, and they're going to get it here. (At least the recognition and support part.)

And guess what? There are readers out there - citizens of Baltimore and of Maryland, of city and suburb - who have a hunger to know more about all this and a desire to be part of it.

The just-departed O'Malley administration spent $500,000 for a new promotional slogan, "Baltimore: Get In On It." If my measure of things is accurate, that could be a call to arms for men and women who are sick of the violence here and want to give their time, money and brainpower to do something about it.

Grant Corley, a reader of this column, wrote the best of all letters on this subject last week, and it was reflective of many others received: "A month ago, I moved back to my hometown of Baltimore. I moved out 15 years ago, but I missed this town and slowly realized I wanted to live and work here as an adult. ... Needless to say, it's been a bittersweet experience so far. Every day I see things that amaze me and make me proud to call Baltimore home again. But the crime is heartbreaking. It's stunning. It's wasting so many lives, it's killing our city, and it's crippling our state. I don't have immediate personal experience with the violence, but I take it personally.

Every one of us who cares needs to help to try and end the cycle of poverty and despair. And I wanted to ask you, or your readers, for some suggestions on realistic actions for us to take. A lot of regular folks, including myself, probably don't have the time and the skill to personally organize a march on City Hall or to overhaul the city's school system. I'm not an aspiring politician or a social worker, or even a parent (yet), but I care about this community and I'm willing to pitch in to help turn this city around, in whatever way I can.

"What are the best organizations in the city that are working effectively toward stemming the poverty and the crime - whether they be social organizations like soup kitchens or drug treatment centers, or political action groups, or simply groups that are trying to bring in more jobs and residents?

"I realize that this sickness has been going on for more than a generation, and that this is an immensely complex and deep-rooted problem, half a century in the making. It won't be going away anytime soon. But I can't think of anything that makes me sadder than this city still mired in violence in another generation.

"Bad as things are, this old town is worth saving - all of it. That's why I - as I suspect you do and many of your readers do - still have this crazy vision of a happy, healed, growing Baltimore, and I can't seem to get it out of my head."

Me neither, Grant. So watch this space.

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

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