Ugly prejudice and the light rail

If the push by Anne Arundel County residents and elected officials to shut down several light rail stations north of BWI-Marshall Airport is really about crime, we ask this: Where’s the evidence? County Executive Steve Schuh’s office admits there is no crime wave associated with the light rail, even as he appeals to the Department of Transportation to curtail service. County police have been patrolling the trains in recent months, boarding more than 1,000 times since April to yield a whopping three arrests and 14 fare violations.

On the contrary, when we hear County Councilman John Grasso haul out the old suburban saw that “drug addicts, crooks, thieves” use the light rail to “go out there, rob the people, hop on the train back to Baltimore City,” it sounds a lot like President Donald Trump’s claim that Mexico is “sending” drug dealers and rapists across our southern border.

This is nothing new. Suburbanites have been claiming that the light rail is a conduit for crime for years; Ruxton residents actually managed to prevent the construction of a light rail stop in their neighborhood for that reason. The underlying assumption seems to be that Baltimore is full of criminals who want nothing more than to rob county residents but are prevented merely by the lack of transportation.

In the context of the Baltimore region’s legacy of segregation, it’s impossible to avoid the racial implications of that thinking. But we would add a couple of other points.

First, we would have thought that the spreading opioid crisis — one that Mr. Schuh has treated, quite correctly, as an emergency — would have disabused residents of Anne Arundel and suburban and rural communities across the state of the notion that illegal drugs and the problems associated with them are somehow confined to Baltimore City. Drug addicts don’t need to take the light rail to the suburbs. They already live there.

Second, it’s true that large numbers of Baltimore City residents are desperate to get to northern Anne Arundel (and, for that matter, north-central Baltimore County). They go because there are jobs there. In fact, the social problems at the root of the suburbanites’ anxiety are worsened, not ameliorated, by seeking to cut off the city from the suburbs.

We don’t dispute that crime occurs in and around light rail stations. It does, just as it does around shopping centers, movie theaters, stadiums and anywhere else people gather. The answer to that problem is increasing police patrols where and when data indicate they will do the most good, not eliminating the ability of those who lack cars, whether due to economic circumstances or choice, to travel between the city and suburbs.

Light rail service in Arundel is suspended at the moment for track repairs necessitated by the recent rains, and Mr. Schuh, Mr. Grasso and Del. Pam Beidle, a Democrat running against Mr. Grasso for state Senate, are all taking the opportunity to push for service to be eliminated or curtailed only to times convenient to well-to-do suburbanites (i.e., conventional rush hour and before and after Orioles and Ravens games). The question is in the hands of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and, ultimately, his boss, Gov. Larry Hogan. Ms. Beidle and Messrs. Schuh and Grasso are showing a willingness to pander to their constituents during an election year. We urge the Hogan administration to respond with the courage to recognize the broad needs of the state over the base prejudice of a vocal few.

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