DO YOU feel safer yet?
About six minutes before late Sunday night turned into early Monday morning, Andrey Bundley - the principal of Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy and one of the few people with the guts to challenge Mayor Martin O'Malley's rule in Baltimore - started putting pint-size Bundley-for-mayor leaflets on some cars.
With Bundley was one of his campaign workers, a tall, gangly chap who certainly couldn't be missed by the ever-cognizant Baltimore police. Here's what police and Bundley agree on: An officer shouted for Bundley to "stop doing that."
After that, as you might expect, the accounts diverge.
"We only put posters on three cars," Bundley said yesterday. "I was walking toward the third car when I asked, 'Stop doing what?' By the time the officer answered, 'Stop doing that,' I had already placed the sign on the third car, and he was running toward me."
Police said Bundley continued to place signs on cars after the officer ordered him to stop. Bundley was then slapped in handcuffs and arrested for violating that ever-important city ordinance banning anyone from putting anything on cars without the owners' permission. The pernicious and deadly crime of ambitious campaigning was thus nipped in the bud.
So, do you feel safer yet?
Or, with an out-of-control homicide rate that New York-style policing has yet to hold in check, do you find yourself wishing Baltimore police would find better things to do with their time than detain mayoral candidates who happen to be high school principals for violating a law that's been enforced sporadically at best?
Commissioner Kevin Clark sounded very pious in defending the officer who arrested Bundley, citing the very chapter and verse (Article 19, Section 1-3, because I know that in a town filled with dope peddlers, addicts, stick-up boys and armed homicidal nutbirds you must be dying to know that) of the city ordinance Bundley violated.
It wasn't just the leafleting of cars, Clark explained. Bundley "had been warned" before his arrest Sunday night.
Oh, so this is a crime so serious that warnings are needed? But even on the subject of warnings, the accounts of Bundley and the police differ. Cops say Bundley was warned not to leaflet cars only two weeks before the events of July 27. Bundley recalls it was more like three or four weeks ago, and only pertained to the lot across from Hammerjacks nightclub on Guilford Avenue.
"He said that lot was leased to Hammerjacks, and I couldn't put signs on cars there," Bundley said. "We were leafleting cars on the parking lot under the Jones Falls Expressway behind the Hollywood Diner" on Saratoga Street.
A police sergeant had arresting Officer Kenneth Lane issue Bundley a citation Sunday night. On Monday, Clark called Bundley's arrest a publicity stunt. Yesterday, Bundley, standing outside police headquarters, asked, "Whose stunt was it?"
Bundley also asked why the young man leafleting with him wasn't arrested. (Clark's answer, delivered yesterday by an aide: "The other night officers didn't realize this was just a political stunt. Today they did.")
Let's not just stop there. A plethora of questions should be asked about this mess, one of which might be: When was the last time any candidate was arrested for leafleting cars?
Arthur Murphy has been a Baltimore political consultant since 1979. Has he seen, in that time, a candidate for office arrested for leafleting cars?
"No," Murphy answered, then added that reckless proliferation of campaign signs is, indeed, a problem.
"As a good citizen," Murphy said, "I understand the law. On the other hand, I have to ask, 'Don't you have something better to do?' The problem isn't with cars, but throwing up signs everywhere else. I've done it. People have been ticked off about it."
Murphy said there may be serious constitutional issues involved in this incident.
"Leafleting goes back to about the 17th century," Murphy said. "For campaigns that don't have money and don't have a way to get their message out, they have no choice. If I were a civil liberties lawyer, I'd run with this issue. It's about free speech."
Clark also answered the question about whether a candidate had ever been arrested for leafleting cars, one that might indicate what a pain-in-the-neck this whole affair has become.
"We don't know," the commissioner said through his aide. "But I warned O'Malley [about leafleting cars] once. I won't do it again."