It was truly touching to see all those little ladies from Cherry Hill, priests from Curtis Bay and a number of other well-meaning residents from East Baltimore to Hamilton before the Planning Commission last week, defending The Block. Such fervor! Such sincerity! One resident even proclaimed that "we are like Christian soldiers and we're going to march on to war" to keep this zone of sin on East Baltimore Street.
The smut peddlers on The Block are not stupid. No sooner had a City Council bill been introduced to outlaw adult entertainment businesses, peep shows and porno shops from the central business district by July 1995 than telephones began ringing in various neighborhoods. The message was always the same: If The Block is outlawed, a red-light district will move to your neighborhood, bringing in prostitution, crime and drugs.
These threats are a red herring. In fact, while permitting certain relocations, the bill would not allow any new concentration of adult entertainment uses. Strip-tease bars or porno shops could not be located within 1,000 feet of another one, nor could one be closer than that to any "residence district, church, hospital, school, library, park, playground or day nursery."
It is understandable that the well-meaning citizens defending The Block had no clear understanding of the bill or the current situation on The Block. Nearly everyone seems ignorant about what goes on in these establishments. Most City Council members claim they have not been to The Block in recent times. Planning Commission members probably claim similar innocence.
We strongly urge that before the Planning Commission, City Council or the upright citizens go any further, they ought to take a night out and go to The Block to see for themselves. For comparison purposes, they also ought to visit a number of strip-tease establishments on North Point Boulevard in Baltimore County.
Unless their presence sends a warning signal, they are likely to see that many liquor laws are habitually broken on The Block. Dancers strip to the raw, foregoing required G-strings and pasties. Or there are solicitation attempts. It is curious that all this takes place just a few feet from police headquarters. In contrast, the Baltimore County establishments generally seem to operate within the letter of the law.
Traditionally, Baltimore politics have been closely linked to the liquor interests. It does not surprise us at all that City Council members are desperately seeking any excuse that would enable them to escape taking action against The Block. But they ought to know the reality they are dealing with.