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Remedying a 'Man-Made Disaster' ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


Four blocks from the State House, two blocks from the Arundel Center and five minutes from City Hall, a poverty-ridden, drug-plagued piece of Annapolis bears testimony to the failure of government. The eight-block, mostly black neighborhood along Clay Street is, as Alderman Carl Snowden said, "a man-made disaster," crafted by decades of neglect and broken promises.

Three weeks ago, an Annapolis policeman was wounded in a drug raid at a low-income housing complex at Clay and West Washington streets.

People responded as they always do -- by calling for more police protection. So the city stepped up patrols and opened a satellite police station on Clay Street -- which is a good idea.

But let's not kid ourselves. The police can't fix the problems that blight this community. Oh, yes, while officers are there the drug dealers, prostitutes and alcoholics may keep out of sight, and users of the Whitmore Parking Garage may feel a little safer. But nothing will have changed. The root cause of decay -- double-digit unemployment and abject poverty -- will remain.

Bad neighborhoods don't change until community leaders start fighting the economic demons that destroy them. Since the 1960s, no one has paid attention to Clay Street, much less taken an active role to improve it. The promises of urban renewal -- new businesses, better housing -- were never fulfilled. Throughout the '70s and '80s, resources followed the areas of greatest political influence -- the historic district, affluent communities. A poor, small, black constituency was guaranteed to be ignored.

Now, while the memory of the shooting is fresh, before the city budget season begins and powerful constituencies vie for the attention of candidates for this fall's city election, Annapolis leaders should muster support for initiatives that would change this neighborhood. Mr. Snowden, Alderman Dean Johnson and County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb have taken a first step by scheduling a town meeting March 27 to discuss what can be done. Two necessities are obvious: job training and drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Such programs will cost money. But, as the last 25 years have demonstrated, the price of neglect is far higher.

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