It's time to speak up - or head out of town

March 18, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Anybody know Antonio Santiful? If you do, please ask him to call me (410-332-6166) because, based on what little I know about him, Santiful ought to be looking for something new in his life right about now - a new job, and maybe a ticket out of town. A bullet across the face ought to get a young man thinking about a different scene and a different lifestyle. You know what I'm saying?

Santiful survived a shooting last week on Cliftmont Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. So did another guy named Jerome Whitaker. Christopher Clarke, who was just 18, did not.

It's possible Clarke was a crossfire victim, someone standing there while other young men settled an issue with guns.

It could have been worse. When gunfire erupted along Cliftmont Avenue on Tuesday night, there were kids and parents on rowhouse porches - those people who try to live their lives while idiots with guns keep trying to kill each other and their city.

Antonio Santiful caught a graze wound to his face. He was lucky.

I don't know what he was doing there.

But based on what I know about him, Santiful ought to be looking to make a big change that will keep him out of high-risk situations for the rest of his life. That's assuming he regards life as precious and wishes to live long and become a responsible citizen and even a great man. So far, he doesn't seem to be on that kind of track.

According to court records, Santiful was convicted in August for illegal handgun possession and given a three-year sentence, with two years and three months suspended.

Had he been given a longer sentence, of course, he would not have been standing on Cliftmont Avenue the other night.

But given the reality - too many suspended sentences for handgun violations in Baltimore Circuit Court - Santiful was on the street and he was at risk and he was lucky to get off with a graze.

Assuming he had served most of his suspended sentence - about nine months - Santiful must have "just got home." The month or so after release is a critical time for young men. They either make a decision to get a new life - a new place to live, away from their old friends, and a job - or they go right back to the streets.

So, look, if you know Antonio Santiful - or Jerome Whitaker, the other one who was wounded Tuesday night - have them call me. Maybe a brush with death affected their brains. Maybe they're thinking about making a change. I know people who can help. Santiful and Whitaker could also call the Baltimore Police Department's Get Out of the Game hot line: 443-984-7217.

As for the rest of Baltimore: Anybody seen any outrage lately? Anybody seen Baltimore citizens get good and angry about all the killings in the city? Anybody find it appalling that the mayor and City Council are actually contemplating handsome pay increases for themselves while Baltimore continues to have one of the nation's worst per-capita homicide rates?

I receive a lot of e-mail - more than ever - and while a lot of it comes from people who live in Baltimore, it's mostly from people who live around, or outside, or far away from Baltimore and find it amazing that we abide all this violence.

A recent example is the one that showed up Thursday, after The Sun reported that 57 people had been killed in Baltimore this year, 51 of them in shootings. Reading of this via balti moresun.com, Frederick K. Schoenbrodt, a Baltimore expatriate who practices law in Morristown, N.J., wrote: "The level of violence in Baltimore is rising ... again. This is preposterous. While every other large city in the nation is trending towards less violent crime, our city lurches in the other direction. No outrage is heard, though, just reassurances that a `new' strategy is being implemented. ... The complacency is despicable. Enough already! ... Demand that your city's leaders stop this! ... It's really just depressing that a city with so much potential is cursed with such bad leadership."

A few months ago, USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, who grew up in Cherry Hill, wondered why black Baltimoreans, in particular, did not express more outrage over the carnage. He asked Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm.

`I think it's because we know it's our fault," Hamm told Wickham, "and we're constantly looking for someone else to blame."

Of course, I don't see how this is a matter for black leadership. It's a matter for leadership. Martin O'Malley ran for mayor with that message, and a city with a black majority elected him twice.

I agree with Wickham that it's "time for them to be as aggressive, and as demanding, in combating the black murder rate as they are in fighting for an increase in minimum wage or an expansion in health care." I just think "them" should be all of us who are sick of the waste and the misery, and who care about the future of this city. You don't have to live here to get involved.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Coming up: The Baltimore Summit, May 12, at the Baltimore Convention Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Think of this as a big town meeting, with the call to action: "Let's turn this town around," Hosted by the Safe and Sound Campaign, it's the second such event in 10 years. The last time, 7,000 citizens turned out to vote on key initiatives aimed at healthier children and safer neighborhoods. It's a great way to get involved. More information at www.safeandsound.org

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