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.
In Indianapolis, a Dutch military commando, in the United States for training, was shot outside a hotel. He has now died. Two of his buddies, two other Dutch commandos, remain hospitalized.
There were six shootings over the weekend in Baltimore, leaving one dead and six injured.
Just a bit earlier it was announced that the family of a man who was shot dead in downtown Baltimore, allegedly by a 15 year-old “squeegee kid,” is suing the City, for failing to provide adequate public safety. City officials and their “Federal partners” held the obligatory news conference saying the violence has to stop. Truth is, the violence won’t stop in Baltimore, until the people of Baltimore get so fed up that they start assisting the police in putting the bad guys in jail. To date, that hasn’t happened. Not enough to make any real difference. I suspect City leaders are afraid to call the City’s residents out for their negligence out of fear that they’ll lose what little cooperation the cops are currently getting. But enough about the long-term woes of Charm City. There is so much more.
Sunday night in Phoenix, three people were killed, including a “suspect” and two police officers were injured following some kind of shootout. Apparently the suspect was wearing a bullet-proof vest and there was a molotov cocktail involved.
Earlier on Sunday, in Houston, four people were killed after a suspect set several homes on fire and then shot the occupants as they ran outside trying to escape the flames.
And this just in: An off-duty Harris County Texas Deputy Constable was shot and killed last night while driving home from a restaurant, where he had gone to pick up dinner for his family.
I apologize if I missed any of the weekend shootings but there are so many on any given weekend, that it’s difficult to keep up.
Some ninety percent of America thinks the country should enforce national background checks for firearms purchases, a position that’s opposed by Republicans and the gun lobby. For this one issue alone, you need to vote for Democrats in the upcoming election. This Republican supported madness opposing common sense gun safety legislation has to stop.
In a very real sense, opposing Republicans supports the police, and right now, they need our help. Big time. Before long, people will be afraid of traveling to America, out of fear of being gunned down on our streets. We are nearly there. Or, maybe we’re already at that point but most of us got so used to all the mass-shootings that we simply missed it?
Ozzy Osbourne, didn’t. On Sunday it was announced that he and his family are fed up with the violence here in the U.S. and are moving back to the U.K. A move Rod Stewart made some years ago, after he was mugged at gunpoint in Los Angeles back in 1982. Stewart had his 3-year old daughter with him at the time.
The web headline from WJZ-TV is beyond belief. “16 Shot 6 Killed in Weekend Violence” it reads. It goes on to point out that one man was found dead shot in the head on Interstate 95, which is significant I suppose, because it’s within the jurisdiction of the State and not the city. It happened within city limits though, and dead is dead.
Having returned to Maryland 6 years ago and having lived through and covered the gang wars in Los Angeles as a reporter in the 80’s and 90’s, I find the current crime problem in “Charm City” both terrible and fascinating. The question of course is what’s to be done about Baltimore, a city that appears to be broken from top to bottom? A city that can’t seem to find it’s way beyond the lawlessness that rules its streets.
Not only does it have a gang problem, it seems to lack the political will, the leadership, to do anything substantial about it.
It was a different place when I lived there in the early 80’s. William Donald Schaefer was Mayor. He was broadly condemned for having a “shadow government” but at the same time, everything worked. In other words, the city was kept clean. The garbage was picked up on time. Kids weren’t doing “donuts” in their cars in downtown intersections. You didn’t need a scorecard to know how many people had been shot over the weekend.
Schaefer, was known for having a short fuse. He’d get angry and walk out of a news conference if he didn’t like the questions. But “Willie-Don” Schaefer, got things done. In fairness, it needs to be pointed out that this was before the crack cocaine epidemic hit urban America in 1984/85. That said, it was clear to those of us who were around at the time that Mayor Schaefer, wouldn’t put up with any nonsense. Not in his city. For him it was personal.
Los Angeles, had all the same problems Baltimore is currently having and nothing seemed to make a difference until an unpopular Police Chief named Daryl Gates sent his cops out to do a “sweep.” The police knew who the bad guys were, and early one morning the LAPD, armed with warrants, went out and rounded them up and threw them in jail. And guess what? It worked. The shooting didn’t stop completely, but it dropped way off.
The gang sweep had worked but the ACLU went into near convulsions over alleged civil rights violations of the alleged gang members. The gang bangers mothers were on every tv station in town complaining that their dope-pusher kids were being treated unfairly. And so, the ACLU took the City of Los Angeles to court. I can’t remember how many cases there were or if city officials eventually thought the exercise had been worth it. But I do remember that initially, it worked.
Factoid: When the Los Angeles Riots broke out the city’s Mayor, Tom Bradley, and the city’s Police Chief, Daryl Gates, had not spoken to one-another for more than a year. Various sources claimed they hadn’t talked for two years. The AP put it at 13 months. This has nothing to do with Baltimore, except as an example of how dysfunctional a city can become.
“Jacking up” the known bad guys, also worked in Los Angeles. The cops knew who the gang members were and where they’d hang out, so when they saw a group out on the streets the police would slam them up against a wall and see what they were carrying. The results were two-fold as some of them were arrested and others were discouraged from hanging out on the streets. The ACLU went ballistic over that one too, again alleging civil rights violations. Eventually the LAPD had to stop.
Daryl Gates responded to the ACLU’s lawsuits by telling the city’s residents that if they didn’t like the police then the next time they had a problem they should call the ACLU. Gate’s popularity continued to plunge. By the time the L.A. riots broke out, weekly “Gates Must Go!” protests had been going on for months on the lawn in front of police headquarters.
The other day I read that Baltimore’s relatively new Police Commissioner, was doing a “sweep” for gang members. A quick check on Google indicates the city has been taking similar actions, doing “sweeps” as far back at 2013.
Like “The Wire,” there’s another new crime show on tv about Baltimore. This one is titled “We Own This City.” It’s about corruption within the Baltimore Police Department and it gives the city another black eye in the national media. This is happening at a time when some Marylanders, those who live out in the counties surrounding Baltimore, are afraid to drive into the city for an Orioles game. I know they are because they’ve told me so. It has also been reported in the local press. But everyone continues with their daily business, pretending the problem isn’t there as the body count continues to rise. Denial is one way to get through it. Denial, and maybe dodging bullets or just helplessly sitting there while your car is surrounded by “squeegee kids” at downtown intersections demanding payment for messing up your windshield.
Back in L.A. old friends tell me crime is on the rise again. Big time. Some have left the city. Others are talking about leaving. Daryl Gates is long gone. Dead and buried. Which really doesn’t matter. They hated him when he was alive.
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.
Before the explosive growth in the popularity of football and the terrible but quite possibly real consequences of CTE, we all had something else. Something calmer. Something more thoughtful and far less violent. We had baseball. A testimonial to teamwork and fair play. A monument to all that was right and good about America, where any kid who worked hard and stayed out of trouble could rise to the top. Make it into the bigs. Even a farm kid from out in the sticks. Baseball and not physically and possibly mentally debilitating football, was our national passtime. And it’s still out there. Waiting to welcome you back.
I got into rooting for the Orioles back in the early 80’s, while working at WMAR-TV in Baltimore. I was initiated into the O’s family by “Wild Bill” Hagy himself, who looked at my pinstripe suit and said, you look pretty good in those pinstripes, but you’ll look a lot better wearing this,” as he placed an orange and black Orioles cap on my head. In retrospect, it was a proud moment for me, a moment of baseball acceptance like none before, as I became a “Weaver believer,” covering the 79 series with Pittsburgh.
Being on tv, even as a humble news reporter, has it perks.
I remained a fan of the O’s for the next three years before a job offer called me away to KABC-TV in Los Angeles, which meant swearing an allegiance to Dodger blue. Thing is, I grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and never really got over it when they left. So there I was, in LA with the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda and all, but somewhere in a dark corner of my mind, the Dodgers still belong in Brooklyn. It’s something I can’t shake. It’s as though the Angels should have been enough for LA, but the Dodgers chased them out of town. Chased them down to Anaheim, where they continue to try and sort out their identity crisis. What else can you call it, when a team has Los Angeles in its name but plays out of a ballpark located in Anaheim, down in Orange County? How can they possibly be the “Los Angeles Angels?” The only thing that might possibly be worse would be the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” I mulled this over for some time back when they changed their name from “California,” which sort of worked, to “Los Angeles,” which doesn’t really work at all. It kind of makes local identity meaningless. Isn’t identifying with a team a key to enjoying the game?
All this moving around and name changing was too much for a kid from Minnesota, who remembers no professional baseball at all before the Twins, when nearly everybody from the land of 10,000 lakes (actually it’s more than 11,000 but Minnesotans are way too humble to brag about it) was pulling for the Milwaukee Braves before they moved to Atlanta.
And so, after leaving Maryland for the coast, baseball lost me. Or I lost baseball. For more than 30 years. Even with Chavez Ravine and the Big A right there. I had little or no interest. Steve Garvey? Steve who? I had seen baseball. It was Brooks Robinson and the Orioles, and they were on the other side of the world.
And then I came back. And the O’s are still here. And baseball – and this is why I decided to write this rambling reminiscence – baseball, is better than ever.
Watching Manny Machado bare-hand a grounder while on the run and rocket it over to first for an out and then come back to hit a grand-slam homer, or waiting for Buck Showalter to go into a full-blown Earl Weaver impersonation and start kicking dirt on the ump’s shoes before being ejected (I know he won’t, but I keep hoping), it’s all still there. And the play, the science of baseball, for me anyway, is better than ever. These guys are amazing. And so is the game. It always has been. It’s what America is about. Or what it was about before we lost our way. Achievement through fair play, hard work and being part of a team, all pulling together to be winners. A monument to all that is right and good about America. Baseball, is American exceptionalism personified. Most of the politicians now running for national office would be ejected in the top-half of the first.
“O say can you see?” “O” yes I can Wild Bill, and it’s good to be back. Francis Scott Key would have loved the Orioles and Camden Yards, one of the last baseball venues that refuses to sell out to the highest bidder. He would have had a Buck Showalter garden gnome hidden out in the backyard. A silent overseer counting balls and strikes while hiding out in a big patch of black-eyed susans.