Another January in Baltimore, another couple of dozen homicide victims in the city morgue.
Last year, Baltimore averaged a killing per day for the month of January. Thirty-one days, 31 victims.
Leonard Hamm, our police chief, said the body count was the result of cops cracking down on drug dealers, who reacted by being more violent and homicidal in collecting their drug debts. That must have gone over like a swarm of Nazis crashing a stoned soul picnic, because Mayor Martin O'Malley had a different take in his 2005 State of the City address.
Baltimore's 31 bodies in 31 days were Maryland's and America's problems, O'Malley said, as much as Baltimore's.
So Baltimore's 28 homicides in 31 days for January 2006 must be Maryland's and America's problems, too. If January 2007 is anything like the previous two Januarys in Baltimore, it'll be interesting to hear whether O'Malley believes it's still a Maryland problem if his residence happens to be the governor's mansion.
(If any more Baltimore police officers are charged with raping detainees, arresting meter maids, assaulting Morgan State University employees while in a drunken rage and dropping off a suspect in rival gang territory so he could be beaten - all of which they are accused of doing on O'Malley's watch as mayor - it'll be interesting to see if Hizzoner says those are Maryland's problems as well.)
But it would be easy to bash Hamm and O'Malley for what's happened in Baltimore for two consecutive Januarys - even easier than it was for both of them to claim that while the bodies are dropping all around us, progress is being made. I realize that Hamm and O'Malley can't say what they're up against, not if they want to keep their jobs. (Or, in O'Malley's case, get elected to the one he wants.)
O'Malley's got a gubernatorial race to win. How would he look standing before thousands of Baltimoreans - and hundreds of thousands of Marylanders -saying, "We're not just fighting crime in Baltimore, we're fighting a culture"?
That would be true. But O'Malley can't say it. A lot of folks would think he'd lost his mind. His own brothers wouldn't vote for him if he uttered a line like that. But look at what he and Hamm - and Hamm's predecessors as police chief - have put up with:
Gangsta rap with its glorification of drug dealing, violence and "the thug life." O'Malley can't address this issue, not if he wants to avoid being tagged with the dreaded "r" (as in racist) word. The silly thing is O'Malley shouldn't even have to worry about that. I've written it once, and I don't mind writing it again: When it comes to the subject of young black men being shot dead on Baltimore's streets, O'Malley has shown more outrage than many black leaders.
But O'Malley - because of that "r" word thing - really can't take to task the editors of XXL magazine, who last summer put out a "jail issue" dedicated to "hip-hop's incarcerated soldiers." The cover of the magazine featured 50 Cent standing beside his cohort Tony Yayo, who was proudly sporting an orange prison jump suit. Nor can O'Malley chide the editors of The Source magazine, who put out their "Hip-Hop Behind Bars 2" issue in December.
That issue of The Source also had articles with the revealing titles "An In-Depth Look at America's Criminal Justice System: Are We [Blacks] The Targets?" and "Snitching: Is Silence Golden?" That brings us to a couple of other fronts in the culture wars all our mayors and police commissioners have to fight.
The culture of ever-expanding victimhood and
The culture of the "stop snitching" phenomenon.
Editors at The Source best exemplify the victimhood culture since they believe that the justice system targets all blacks, not just those silly enough to identify themselves as pimps, "gangstas," "hustlas" and "thugz."
The latter has proved particularly vexing for Baltimore, with the Stop Snitching DVD that scandalized the city. There are now "Stop Snitching" T-shirts and caps. But the problem isn't just videos or attire. There is an American subculture that values "no snitching" as an honorable and acceptable moral value.
More than one rap song has made reference to it, perhaps the most notable being one on Kimberly Jones' latest CD. Known as L'il Kim in the rap world, Jones is serving time in prison for refusing to snitch. She gave perjured testimony about a shootout in front of a New York radio station.
It's one thing for Jones and other rappers to put out songs extolling the virtues of "no snitching." It's quite another for radio stations to play them. But O'Malley can't bring up the issue. Neither can Hamm. Since they're government officials, somebody somewhere will dredge up the "c" word - as in censorship. O'Malley and Hamm can't bring it up, but Lord knows somebody should.