Another drug war casualty Walbrook Hardware: Store closing is sad commentary on city crime-fighting efforts.


IF THE POLICE are not embarrassed, they should be. Walbrook Hardware and Supply Co., a 50-year-old institution on West North Avenue, is closing its doors because of street-corner drug dealers who have created an unsavory environment that makes it dangerous for customers to frequent the store.

Owner Paul Weinberg says he can't take it any longer. He's not the only one. Professional Cleaners is shutting down after 26 years for the same reason. It is hard to attract and keep customers when they are afraid of being accosted by the junkies who walk the street looking for a way to finance their next heroin purchase.

The police department faces a tremendous task in a city with more than 40,000 drug addicts. Try as it might, it has not been able to eradicate all the open-air drug markets. And perhaps it won't succeed until Baltimore finds a way to significantly decrease the demand for illegal drugs within the city's borders.

In the meantime, though, people have to live and work and shop in this city. It is not unreasonable for them to expect to do those normal, everyday things without having drug dealers brazenly hawk their wares on the street with no apparent concern that they might be arrested.

Maj. Gary G. Lembach, commander of the Southwestern Police District that includes Walbrook, says the overall crime rate is down 8 percent. That's excellent. But it's not enough.

The public knows the police could arrest street dealers every day and there would always be people to replace them. But if the police are not going to arrest street dealers, if they have no jail space for them, then officers ought to at least keep the sidewalks safe for law-abiding citizens who want to go to the store.

Make the drug dealers move. Patrol the streets and alleys and keep dispersing the dealers until they have nowhere to go. Drug dealers shouldn't be acting like they have as much right to do business as a Walbrook Hardware. The police should be embarrassed that they do.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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