Drove down into Baltimore yesterday. Per usual, saw not one cop until we got to Johns Hopkins University, and there, to my shock and surprise, was a Hopkins University patrol car. Is this new, something I missed because I rarely watch local tv news?
It’s a step in the direction of bringing the City back from the brink, in my opinion. Can’t understand the pushback coming from some sectors of the community.
Hopefully, Hopkins police supporting the Baltimore PD, new laws banning “squeegee workers from some City streets and a new State’s Attorney, will help turn things around. At the same time, the State, with its huge surplus, might think about hiring road crews to clean up the litter that keeps getting worse along state routes through and around the City. What an unacceptable mess. Put some people to work with decent paying jobs and clean it up.
How are people supposed to feel good about where they live, when the place looks like a dump?
Of course more will be needed, like funneling more money into City schools and after-school programs to keep kids off the streets, more funding for the State’s Attorney’s office and many other parts of an equation that aims to solve problems that have been building for years.
What the City and the State have done or failed to do, clearly, has not worked. In the short term, somebody had to get things started, and Hopkins, it appears, has taken the lead.
Welcome to Baltimore, where an assistant to the President of City Council, has been charged with dealing drugs while armed with a semi-automatic handgun loaded with 16-rounds with an extra clip nearby. Meantime, the council president’s wife, who happens to be the Baltimore State’s Attorney, is under indictment for perjury and allegedly making false statements in a real estate deal. Her husband, the Council President, the same guy whose assistant was just arrested on the drug-selling and gun charges, is under fire for alleged ethics violations.
Confusing, isn’t it? Keep reading, it gets so much better.
Baltimore is a city that watched two recent former mayors go to prison, one for federal conspiracy and tax evasion for a book selling scam that funneled money into her personal accounts and another, the City’s first female mayor, for twelve felony and misdemeanor counts including perjury and theft.
A piece in Baltimore Magazine declared the City to be, “…the second most corrupt federal jurisdiction in the country.”
Our reporter’s old mantra from the O.J. case applies to the City of Baltimore. ” You can’t make this stuff up because nobody would believe it” we all used to say, stunned at each new development. But here in Baltimore, there’s so much more.
There are the vacant row-houses and fires. According to the Baltimore Sun, there are nearly 15,000 vacant houses in the City. Twelve percent of the City’s structure fires, the newspaper reports, break out in vacant buildings. That’s twice the national average, according to the paper. They go on to report that more than 72-percent of all fires in vacant or abandoned buildings are “incendiary or suspicious” according to the National Fire Protection Association.
None of this would have come to light, if three Baltimore City firefighters hadn’t died while fighting a fire in a vacant row house in January. A fire that was declared to be incendiary. That’s what it took to make the city and its media, pay attention to a problem that’s been festering for years.
Kudos to the Baltimore Sun, for putting together the story. Perhaps they might now take it a step further, looking into who owns all those thousands of vacant row houses, and whether and how it might be to the owner’s advantage to let them just sit there and rot, as opposed to either renovating the properties or tearing them down? Are they getting tax breaks for doing nothing while the City crumbles? Are any of the fires being set so that the owners can collect insurance money? Are any of the property owners making significant contributions to city officials or candidates running for office?
Former Los Angeles Police Chief, Bill Bratton, who also served as Police Commissioner in New York City, had a policing philosophy he called “broken windows.” Bratton’s idea was that you have to start with the little stuff, like making sure there are no broken windows out in the neighborhoods if you want to deal with the bigger issues like drugs and guns and gang violence. Bratton, helped Los Angeles turn the corner and begin to heal following the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed. The difficulty factor for Bratton in Los Angeles, was palpable.
During an interview with Bratton at Parker Center, he told me, on camera, that the City’s police department was so short of officers, so understaffed, that he and his wife had a standing joke about having a “sighting” should they see either a police officer or a police car anywhere in the city while out for a weekend drive. I recall detective’s cars that were barely running, that were sputtering to the point of stalling out as smoke spewed from tailpipes. I remember LAPD motorcycles visibly leaking oil. Mostly, I recall an “us and them” environment that had poisoned the department for years. That’s what Bill Bratton, walked into.
One wonders if he might be able to do anything with Baltimore, which not only has broken windows but an entire city structure that appears to be broken, from City Hall to the near constant popping of gunfire in the streets while the President of City Council comes under verbal fire for seeking contributions to a “legal defense fund” for him and his wife. At least two of the entities making contributions to the fund are companies that have contracts with the City according to a published report.
Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up. And the saddest part, is that this is a City of such great potential and appeal. A City of historic and architectural beauty, a City of great hospitals, businesses, higher education and history.
We’ve got the Orioles, the Ravens, the National Aquarium, Harbor Place , the National Park Services only property to be designated a shrine at Fort McHenry, the Walters Art Museum, the world’s largest collection of works by Matisse at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the original Washington Monument, the Emerson Bromo Seltzer Tower inspired by the Palazzio Vecchio in Florence, the Phoenix (Baltimore) Shot Tower, the first cathedral built in the country – the Baltimore Basilica, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Morgan State University, Coppin State University and Johns Hopkins. We have great restaurants, a new Four Seasons Hotel on the water and thousands of great, friendly people. Including Ed Poe, who is buried here and is remembered for “The Raven” and inventing the contemporary detective story with “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
But at this very moment mention Baltimore almost anywhere in the country and it’s likely the only thing people will think of is “The Wire.”
WJZ-TV is reporting, “Schools in Baltimore without air conditioning will release early Tuesday in anticipation of sweltering heat.”
Apart from the questionable grammar of “release early,” there is a question that needs to be answered.
Why are there schools without air conditioning in Baltimore, a City with the nation’s second highest per-capita murder rate and a terrible gang problem, with kids doing donuts in their cars on city streets, running circles around a police department that seems helpless to do anything about the flood of street crime?
And the schools have no air conditioning? Has it occurred to anyone, any of these geniuses in local government, that neglecting their youth will negatively impact the future?
Maybe Jeff Bezos or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or any one of the many American billionaires out there, can give the City an HVAC makeover? Baltimore City officials seem incapable of getting anything done.