Taking Responsibility for Crime
State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms is being unfair and unrealistic in his impugning the ability and integrity of the recent grand jury, in his lengthy letter of April 17.
There is some justification for the alleged lack of cooperation with the police by inner-city residents. It is the feeling of the public in the drug-infested inner city that only minor perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted for drug dealings.
It is the inner-city belief that the legal officialdom cannot, or more likely will not, touch the really top personages in the drug dealing and international smuggling market; top elected and appointed politicos, inside and outside the Washington Beltway, and top business executives working from their 20th-floor board rooms.
Who are those persons mentioned in Mr. Simms' letter as being drug wholesalers? They are just unknown, insignificant locals in the eyes of the inner-city residents. The really big wheeler-dealers, money launderers, escape.
Mr. Simms should be well aware that merely scratching the surface does not satisfy the victimized residents of drug-plagued neighborhoods.
Even though it's probably true that budget restraints prevent Mr. Simms' office from involving itself in international drug dealing, he should not be critical of the tone of the grand jury's report. Rather, he should be in sympathy with the grand jurors' frustrations, and deeply regretful that he cannot do more.
And why did he think the grand jury would seek or accept assistance from his office? That would be like letting the fox into the henhouse.
Mr. Simms should be ashamed of himself for even thinking about obstructing further investigation.
He should publicly apologize to Judge Kenneth Johnson and the grand jury and pledge his utmost cooperation in uncovering the true facts of international drug smuggling and dealing, if for no other reason than to placate the inner-city victimized populace.
Harry E. Bennett Jr.
Have no doubts about this. Underlying the grand jury report critical of the drug enforcement activities of the Baltimore Police Department is a subtle political message.
This is not to say that there is no merit to the report in terms of the handling of cases involving prominent citizens. These allegationsagainst the commanders of the police department should not be taken lightly.
But, nor should these allegations be utilized as convenient excuses for the blight of street-level drug-dealing and violent crime that plagues the mainly African-American community in the central strip of our city that encompass the Eastern and Western police districts.
These two districts have the dubious distinction of producing the highest crime rates in the city. A major share of the homicides, shootings, armed robberies and aggravated assaults occur in these districts. They consistently lead the city in drug arrests -- especially arrests for cocaine and heroin. It is projected that in the Eastern District alone in 1993 there will occur between 400 and 500 shooting incidents.
The grand jury report decries the lack of cases filed against drug kingpins and money launderers (read that as European-Americans).
The excuse that drug kingpins and money launderers are to blame for the crime and drugs in the African-American community rings hollow upon closer inspection. The drug dealers are operating in these communities because their customersare there and the climate is not as hostile to criminal activity. This is known as supply and demand.
The Sun editorialized on April 6, "Criminals are opportunists. If the environment is hostile to crime, they will go elsewhere. If citizens don't take on the responsibility of fighting crime, they can't expect to have a community free from it."
The problem in the African-American community is not that the police arrest too many street-level dope-dealers (read that as African-American males), and not enough drug kingpins and money-launderers. The problem is that members of these communities have been unable or unwilling to police their own households.
Evidence in recent and past studies shows that the increase in single parent households has been the major contributing factor in the rise of violence and drug use in the United States.
Barbara Dafore Whitehead writes in the April issue of Atlantic, "In the mid-1960s Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, was denounced as a racist for calling attention to the relationship between the prevalence of black single-mother families and the lower socioeconomic standing of black children."
This response is all too common from the African-American leadership. The threat of being labeled a racist detracts from the debate over the very root of these social problems, especially the violence.
Ms. Whitehead's article cites statistics that demonstrate in study after study that children from single parent households have greater problems of adjustment. Only 17 percent of European-American births in 1990 were out of wedlock, whereas 57 percent of African-American births were out of wedlock. Add to that the figure of 70 percent of all juveniles incarcerated at state reform institutions in the U.S. are the products of single parent families. One can readily see where all of this is leading.
Racial discrimination and poverty do not cause the violence and drug profiteering in these neighborhoods. These are the results of the disintegration of the two-parent nuclear family.
If poverty caused violent crime, then the crime rate in the 1930s during the Great Depression should have soared. It clearly did not. Mainstream acceptance of African-Americans cannot proceed as it should if the image of African-American neighborhoods is that of violence and drugs.
The grand jury report should be considered on the basis of bungled investigations of prominent citizens, but it should not be seen as an indictment of the Baltimore police for arresting too many street drug dealers.
Until the African-American community can get its house in order, it will be running into a brick wall of discrimination from Main Street. All the civil rights laws in the world will not prevent the fear felt by the European-American community because of the violence and drugs in inner city areas such as Baltimore's Eastern and Western police districts.
Risks must be taken. During the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans risked their lives for their cause. Calling 911 and remaining anonymous is no longer an option. Lawless individuals within the African-American community must be identified and prosecuted with the aid of witnesses from the community who are willing not only to point a finger but back that up with testimony in court. What good are civil rights if they cannot be exercised by persons held prisoner behind their own front doors?
Eric R. Martin
Black Leadership Issues
In 1963, when I was 14, traveling with my family from Baltimore to the South, my father and I were ordered to the rear entrance of the railroad station in Florence, S. C., because we were black.
In that part of the country, the restaurants were for "whites only," and the discrimination against us was overt and pervasive -- unlike our northern, more sophisticated racists.
We respectfully made our way to the rear entrance of the restaurant, all the while outraged and humiliated that, by virtue of the immutability of our skin color, we were denied some of the necessities and pleasantries of life. We had very little choice, our color being the single determinant of our worth and acceptability.
I now note that the gays and lesbians who paraded so proudly and defiantly on April 25 compare their plight with that of the black American.
No such comparison should ever be made, and I am absolutely shocked that our alleged leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis and others, flocked to the podium to offer support and encouragement to gays and lesbians in pursuit of their civil rights.
While arguments have been forwarded that homosexuality is a biological trait, natural and justifiable on its merits, I am deeply troubled that black Americans have bought into this dialogue and permitted someone else to define the means and agenda for the civil rights movement.
Gays and lesbians exercise options which are unavailable to most blacks. For if you don't tell me and I do not witness your sexual behavior, I cannot with any certainty determine your sexual preference, nor should I care.
Color is the key attribute which sets in motion the myriad complex emotions and societal responses which still confound this country today.
It is a warped sense of priority which suggests that gay pride and being "out of the closet" should be in the same league or take precedence over the problems of poverty, the homeless, the helpless and access to the corporate board room, without regard to behavior in the bedroom.
My sense is that the alliance struck between Revs. Jackson, Chavis and the gay-lesbian movement is misguided, counter-productive and extremely damaging in the long run.
I refuse to have the struggles of my parents, relatives, friends and associates considered in the context of the gay pride agenda and lumped into a generic civil rights discussion, which Revs. Jackson and Chavis seem eager to do.
My father died in 1976, with dignity, proud of the accomplishments of his children and the progress being made by black Americans. He never forgot the indignities suffered as a result of his southern black heritage, but he was happy to step up to the new order of things, where this country grudgingly acknowledged civil rights for racial minorities.
He was proud of all of us who distinguished ourselves by virtue of education, fortitude and a desire to be decent citizens. He revered black leaders, whose power was rooted and grounded in religion and in raising the consciousness of America to race, sex or religious-based injustice.
I am disappointed that his struggle, and the struggle of those who went before him, might be devalued and obfuscated by the din of those who insist on proclaiming their intimate sexual behavior as an expression of civil rights.
The rights which have been secured by black Americans have been born out of a struggle to combat the systematic cultural, spiritual and psychological annihilation of an entire racial group over a period of hundreds of years. No such claim can be made by the homosexual lobby, and I resent very deeply any attempts to do so.
In sexual matters, whether hetero- or homosexual, seduction is key occupation and facet in the courtship process and, ultimately, leads to the cementing of a relationship.
I fear that the seduction of such individuals as Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis and NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson by the gay-lesbian movement is the ultimate irony. For these alleged leaders, a photo opportunity is a photo opportunity, whether for blacks, gays-lesbians or any coalition-of-the-month.
As my father would have said, "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."
Perhaps these leaders will bring to the homosexual movement the same level of action, accomplishment and forward movement that they have brought to the plight of black Americans in the last several years. If so, I probably have absolutely nothing about which to be concerned.
James C. Morant
I was somewhat disturbed by Robert C. Gumbs' April 6 letter "What Should Black Priorities Be?" The author suggests that less emphasis should be put on African-Americans in political office and more on the needs of their communities.
It is accurate to say that the inner city communities are in a state of distress. Crime, drugs and broken families have become the visual face of the African-American community to the rest of the nation.
I agree in a sense that an urgent strategy needs to be devised in order to curtail these problems, yet suggesting that we de-emphasize the importance of our political figureheads would be too extreme and very ineffective in solving problems.
Many of our forefathers went to great lengths to reserve this right. The electorate, when operated correctly, can be a powerful tool of any politician regardless of race or gender.
Although politics does have its opportunists, it is fair to say that the majority's interest lies with the bettering of their community. Playing the power games in Annapolis is better than not having any African-American representation at all.
The writer questions why the city is so ill. Maybe he wasn't around when Presidents Reagan and Bush cut funding to the major cities.
Having the likes of Sen. Carolyn Mosley Braun, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Mayor Maynard Jackson in office can only serve as assets to their respective communities, not just as role models but also as lobbyists for a community that many of their white counterparts may be uneducated about and out of touch with. So I say to look at all factors (political, social and economic) when examining the plight of the African-American community and our chosen leaders' responsibility to it.
For only the individuals of each city control their actions. African-American politicians can only try to safeguard citizens' rights and promote growth -- not be the Messiah, for no person deserves that burden.
Johnny Rice II
The Harm Smokers Do to Others
In response to Kathleen Cunzeman Chase (letter, April 29), who gripes that she is treated like a second class citizen for exercising her "legal" right to light up, and who was greatly offended by Roger Simon's acerbic comments on folks like herself:
The amount she paid in taxes last year and the distance she drives to work have nothing to do with the fact that she is engaging in an activity, legal or not, which pollutes the environment and creates health problems for and shortens the lives of innocent people, one of whom could be that "wonderful" child she has raised.
All her rationalizing about what a responsible person she is does not make this less true. Furthermore, comparing smokers to over-eaters is comparing apples to oranges.
While both groups are harming themselves, over-eaters are not contributing to the premature death of others as a byproduct of their self-centered behavior. Smokers are.
If you must smoke, at least have the guts to admit what you are doing to others. Then maybe you will begin to understand the anger of non-smokers.
I agree with Roger Simon's comments 100 percent. If smokers did the thing without fouling the air others breathe, it would be a different story.
However, while thousands of people are dying annually as a result of second-hand smoke, what smokers are doing may be legal but is not moral by any long shot.
This concerns the letter from Kathleen Cunzeman Chase complaining about columnist Roger Simon's denigrating comments about smokers. Granted that Mr. Simon can be a tad crude at times, he was right about smokers.
Ms. Chase's conclusions about smoking being a right and a personal choice are not precisely correct. Smoking is an acquired addiction, similar to narcotic habituation. The only time choice is involved is in the initial decision to smoke and the very early stages.
The neophyte smoker -- all too often a young woman or teen-agers or even younger -- is usually unaware or unwilling to believe that smoking just a few cigarettes can be intensely addictive.
Unfortunately for the beginner, the nicotine in tobacco (and its smoke) is as addictive as heroin and certain other narcotics. It can be more physically harmful.
Lamentably, tobacco products, a major source of federal and state tax revenue and an important export commodity, are perfectly legal.
Given this fact, the immensely rich tobacco industry, facing but a few government restrictions, is able to spend billions of dollars yearly on persuasive advertising and promotion.
As a consequence, millions of non-smokers, women and youngsters especially, are lured to try tobacco products, primarily cigarettes.
Once hooked, addiction is surprisingly rapid. Smokers (and other users) are almost invariably unable to resist indulging the habit. Only illegal drug dealers enjoy the sales advantage tobacco manufacturers maintain once the customer becomes addicted.
Like most tobacco users, Ms. Chase probably believes she actually experiences pleasure in smoking. The sad fact is that smokers (and other users) simply cannot resist the intensely compelling and repetitive demand for more nicotine that addicts experience.
Likely the smoker knows the very serious health risks she faces but is too addicted to the drug to quit.
Having lost a wife, father, brother-in-law, as well as many relatives and friends to tobacco-induced cardio-pulmonary diseases, I have to applaud Roger Simon for his anti-tobacco column -- warts and all.
Such hypocrisy! On April 19, The Sun ran a full page ad for Marlboro, the second within several weeks. On April 22, there was an editorial decrying the tobacco lobbyists' efforts against Baltimore County's attempt to ban public smoking.
So what is your real position? Or is the almighty dollar the deciding factor?