Raising police standardMartin O'Malley became the Democratic...


Raising police standard

Martin O'Malley became the Democratic candidate for mayor of Baltimore on the strength of his promise of reform, especially in the area of public safety.

When he announced his candidacy in June, Mr. O'Malley called for "quality of life" policing, but carefully noted that this does not mean indiscriminate arrest.

After a young man was killed by police officers during a recent arrest scuffle, however, Mr. O'Malley's opponents quickly accused him of endorsing the sort of "zero-tolerance" policy that in other cities has reduced murder rates, but increased police harassment.

But nowhere has Mr. O'Malley suggested that he expects officers to act in a knee-jerk fashion and leave their judgment at home when they report for duty.

Such a policy would be as abhorrent as the Baltimore County school policy against concealed weapons that resulted in an honors student's expulsion after she forgot to leave her mace home.

But sometimes the front-line members of the criminal justice system are best positioned to protect the spirit of the law.

What O'Malley is really seeking, and the message that resonated throughout our city during the primary election, is higher standards for city government.

He rightly asks, for instance, why our government has tolerated open-air drug markets in impoverished neighborhoods when such activity would be unimaginable in Guilford or Roland Park.

This "blind-eye" behavior on the part of the Schmoke administration has grated against the standards of justice and fairness held by Mr. O'Malley and many Baltimore citizens.

At some point in our recent history those who chose to stay in Baltimore stopped demanding that our city government implement its mandate to keep us safe, educate our children and keep the city clean and began accepting the sorry state of city services.

The most telling symptom of this acceptance was the creation of "special-benefits districts," where residents and businesses voluntarily pay additional property taxes to purchase a modicum of safety and cleanliness.

The Schmoke administration supported creation of these districts, and pretended that they were not shaming signs of failure.

Mr. O'Malley will ask more from the city and citizens alike. He will ask more from us because he believes we can do better.

Quality of life policing or, perhaps, "equitable protection policing," is but one part of the strategy Mr. O'Malley will pursue.

Jane Shipley, Baltimore

For better law enforcement

We are in the midst of an important debate about how best to police Baltimore. This is well and good. What is not being talked about is why so much current police work seems so ineffective.

What the city's police, and many others, have never come to grips with is that their effectiveness is based on citizens' trust in their integrity and fairness.

There is always talk that Baltimore juries side with criminals rather than the police. When people stop believing in the honesty of police they will consistently give the benefit of any doubt whatsoever to the accused.

All of us are prone to place the responsibility for failure in others. The police are no different.

But until they realize that every person they push around or abuse, with or without an arrest, is either tomorrow's juror or a close relative of a juror, they can expect continued failure to convict criminals.

Many defense attorneys will privately admit that their success is as often as not a result of distrust of police, rather than their lawyerly skills.

No matter how good reforms of the criminal justice may be, without respect for the integrity of the police we'll never have a criminal justice system that works to our general satisfaction.

I am impressed that Martin O'Malley talks openly of police corruption.

What we need next is a discussion of their civility and fairness.

Wally Orlinsky, Baltimore

The writer is a former president of the Baltimore City Council.

On 'martyrdom' and lost potential

Is anyone else tired of hearing about Larry Hubbard, the drug-dealing miscreant, who has been proclaimed a martyr by some and compared to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

If I were an African-American, I'd be insulted that Larry Hubbard was mentioned in the same sentence as Dr. King's.

We now have at least seven groups investigating a man who was shot because he refused to let go of a police officer's weapon.

Larry Hubbard chose a life of crime, he chose to fight police officers and he chose not to put the gun down.

The police officer responded by defending himself and his partner. If I were an officer in a similar situation, I would have done the same.

If Mr. Hubbard had listened to the officers, he'd be alive today.

Now, Johnnie Cochran is becoming involved in a possible civil suit against the officers.

Mr. Cochran should remember: this time the crime doesn't fit, so you must acquit.

Ginny Phillips, Baltimore

Once again we read about hundreds of mourners grieving the loss of a young man's life in Baltimore ("At funeral, man hailed as a martyr," Oct. 14).

Once again, in the shooting of Larry Hubbard Jr., a vocal opposition rises against the circumstances of the young man's death.

And once again we wonder where were responsible adults or peers who cared enough to steer that young man away from drugs and crime?

Larry Hubbard Jr. needed the show of support during his life, not after the inevitable downward spiral of his death.

Carla M. Schmitt, Baltimore

Editorial on Pinochet extradition miscasts international justice

The Sun's editorial "Going around law to try Pinochet" (Oct. 14) advances a misconception of international law and the meaning of international justice.

The editorial suggests there is no international law without an international tribunal. But while such tribunals are one way international law gets its voice, they are certainly not the only way.

International agreements signed by the United States, for example, are the law of the land, enforceable by our courts.

Great Britain claims jurisdiction over Pinochet, in part as a signatory to the United Nations International Torture Convention.

In this country, the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 gives judicial effect to the same convention, allowing torture victims unable to raise their claim where the conduct occurred to sue in U.S. courts.

Even in the absence of specific legislation, a principle called "universality" has been recognized in international law at least since the Nuremberg trials.

This principle views acts such as genocide and other crimes against humanity, as well as high seas and air piracy, the slave trade and some forms of terrorism, as dangerous to every state -- regardless of where the acts occur.

Accordingly, each state aids all when it asserts jurisdiction.

We must question a vision of "an orderly world" that would permit a head of state to trample people's rights in his own country, yet be welcome in another.

As the development of international law in the past 50 years suggests. have shown, most states embrace the same notions of justice in matters of human rights. Judicial acts of one state that support these shared beliefs should not be regarded as unjust.

In essence, abusers of power should be offered a choice: remain in the hell you've created or face judicial scrutiny in any state where such acts are not tolerated.

Roy D. Brenner, Baltimore

Story on gunner disappointing

As an American who recently returned from more than two years in South Korea, I am puzzled and more than a little disappointed by The Sun's recent front-page article on revelations about the 1950 No Gun Ri massacre ("Old soldier remembers," Oct. 15).

The Sun seems determined to reduce a historic tragedy and possible international scandal into a local human-interest story about a humble "Elkridge man."

According to some witnesses, U.S. troops at No Gun Ri killed scores, maybe hundreds, of unarmed civilians of all ages and both sexes.

Why, then, the focus on Henry Matthias, his trailer, his cigarettes, and so on?

We read the story of how he lied about his age to join the Army and escape the limits of his working-class Baltimore boyhood.

That's understandable. But does it somehow justify what happened at No Gun Ri?

In striking contrast, the police killing of one African-American man, Larry Hubbard has been handled with care and prudence in The Sun's articles. One cannot imagine that The Sun would run a front-page human interest story about the officers who shot the East Baltimore man.

But the soldier who apparently helped machine-gun crowds of Koreans is given such treatment.

It's the commanding officers, not Mr. Matthias, who were ultimately to blame for the incident at No Gun Ri.

But The Sun does not help anyone by reporting the old machine gunner's callous remark about the victims, "I guess they're pushing up daisies."

Mr. Matthias may not be indictable for the atrocity, but he's not going to win any medals for sensitivity -- and neither is The Sun for sharing this with us.

As long as events such as the No Gun Ri massacre are shrugged off, from the trailer parks of Elkridge to the halls of the Pentagon, it is easy to see why there remains in Korea an undercurrent of bitterness against Americans.

Mark Chalkley, Baltimore

Zero tolerance and the letter of the law

"Zero tolerance" destroys the spirit of the law and leaves only the letter.

This approach has caused schoolchildren to be suspended, and their families sued, for such crimes as taking aspirin or using a knife to cut up their lunch.

A man in California received 25 years in prison for a third strike of stealing a pizza.

In New York City, "zero tolerance" means you may be beaten or shot for "acting suspicious."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has certainly cleaned up that town. But can we afford the jails or the wasted lives his approach costs?

When I was young, I asked the priest: "If I was starving, and this rich guy owned a bakery, would it be OK to steal one loaf of bread?"

Today, his answer could be: "My son, both your parents would be jailed and you'd be sent to juvenile detention until you could be tried as an adult and be given a maximum sentence."

Michael S. Eckenrode, Monkton

A racist approach to the war on drugs

"Zero tolerance" police control is merely chapter one of the "war on drugs." Both are racist and oppressive to their core.

If we must have a war, why not return to President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, which was realized only in small measure because of the Vietnam war?

Exaggerating the dangers of crack cocaine and street drug-dealing has served only to rationalize an armed attack on the black community, with inevitable police harassment, brutality and killings.

We will not arrest our way out of the drug scourge. The drug war is a failure -- drugs are cheaper now than 20 years ago, generations of black males are under the control of the Department of Correction and the cost of prison construction has drained resources from other sectors.

Universal health care, including addiction therapy -- a policy supported by Baltimore health commissioner Peter L. Beilenson -- and community policing are more effective than any "zero" program.

Jerome S. Rauch, Baltimore

Spain acts within rules on ex-dictator

The Sun's editorial "Going around law to try Pinochet" (Oct. 14) was inaccurate and unfair.

On March 24, the British House of Lords ruled that Pinochet could be extradited for crimes he committed after Dec. 1988, when Britain signed the United Nations' "International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

Spain's right to charge and extradite Pinochet is based on the same convention -- an international treaty ratified by Britain, Spain and Chile. Pinochet himself signed the treaty on Sept. 23, 1987.

This treaty system attempts to prevent impunity for inhumane conduct.

All states party to the treaty are bound to prosecute alleged offenders or, otherwise, to extradite them. This is an essential element in the treaty's efficacy.

If this is not "an international process at work," I do not know what is.

The "rules of the game" have been established through international treaties approved by governments around the world, including the three involved in the Pinochet case.

To say that this case "does violence to the ideal of a world ruled by law" is unfounded.

Stacie Jonas, Washington

The writer represents the Institute for Policy Studies' Bring Pinochet to Justice Campaign.


What is it about this Pokemon craze? With several West Coast parents suing the manufacturer on the grounds that it promotes illegal gambling, we have to ask: Are "Pocket Monster" cards any different from baseball cards? Can a holgraphic Charzard card really be worth more than Roger Clemens' rookie card? Parents, have you found any educational value behind the Pokemon phenomenon?

We are looking for 300 words or less about this topic. Letters will be edited. The deadline is Oct. 25. They should include your name and address, along with a day and evening telephone number. Write us: Letters to the Editor, The Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278-0001; fax us 410-332-6977; e-mail us: letters@baltsun.com.

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