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The Baltimore Sun

Best cures for city's ills: an education and a job

Thank you for running front-page articles on homicide in this past Sunday's Sun, and for discussing the issue from ethical and pragmatic vantage points ("Searching for answers," Dec. 30).

Certainly, police tactics and strategies that are successful in other comparable urban areas should be explored and adapted to see if they can help Baltimore.

But, much more important, it is the underlying causes of our homicide rate that need our full attention.

"Having spent 15 years in homicide," said recently retired city police Major Richard C. Fahlteich, "I am convinced that it is a socioeconomic problem."

Other officials and experts are paraphrased as saying that "the breakdown of families and communities" and "a dearth of jobs" contribute to the homicide rate in addition to heroin addiction and inconsistent policing. But it is high time that we took an honest, even brazen, look at the root causes of homicide in Baltimore.

The illicit drug market, so entrenched and casually visible in far too many of our neighborhoods, is surely a major contributing factor to the stubborn homicide rate.

Addiction to heroin or crack (and oftentimes heroin and crack) is still very widespread.

Where there is demand, there will always be supply - regardless of any criminal justice approach.

Thus adequate drug treatment is definitely crucial. Despite significant increases, there is still a massive discrepancy between the number of treatment slots and the volume of addicts in need of treatment.

We can continue the debate - and we should - on which treatment approach is the most effective, as exemplified by The Sun's recent articles on buprenorphine and the flurry of letters to the editor they elicited.

But the real problem is that even if there were enough treatment slots and all treatment were effective, that wouldn't stop a younger generation from following the footsteps of others into addiction. Even a stellar treatment-delivery system won't change the conditions that caused Baltimore residents to turn to drugs in the first place.

"There's relatively little city officials can do about the basic conditions that generate violent crime, such as homicide," a University of Missouri, St. Louis criminology professor was quoted as saying.

I beg to differ. Just look at what has been done to transform our Inner Harbor into a veritable magnet for tourists and corporations.

Baltimore's officials need to stop nurturing sites that need little additional help, and zero in on the shoddy public school system and unhealthy, demoralizing physical ghettoes that perpetuate shamefully high rates of violent crime in our city.

Hire the residents to pick up the litter, exterminate the rats, plant some trees, fill the potholes, fix the streetlights, paint the schools, patrol the playgrounds, assist in the classroom and beautify their neighborhoods.

An education and a job are essential stepping stones to a decent life, and the best drug prevention money can buy.

Without these basic opportunities, Baltimore's youths will continue to do what they feel is necessary to survive the deadly street life and, woefully, continue to die.

Lindsay Beane

Baltimore

The writer is director of clinical operations for a drug recovery program in Park Heights.

Disdain for snitch an act of loyalty

Recent letter writers have suggested that that ethic of non-cooperation with law enforcement advocated by the Stop Snitching videos is "indefensible" and lacks an "acceptable rationale" ("'Stop Snitching 2' sends wrong signals" and "Providing a platform for a selfish promoter," Dec. 27).

Here I shall endeavor to defend the indefensible.

Snitch is defined as "to inform or tattle." My computer's instant dictionary says it means "to turn informer," and proffers a sample sentence: "He snitched on his comrades."

This example perfectly captures the negative connotation of the word; snitching is not merely the bare objective statement of a witness - it is a selfish and traitorous betrayal of the trust of comrades.

And Stop Snitching video producer Rodney Bethea's attitude of contemptuous disdain for the snitch ("Thug life - the sequel," Dec. 23) is not the recent invention of modern urban thug culture but rather a prevalent and ancient theme in literature and the arts

The Bible's most notorious villain is Judas, the snitch who betrayed Jesus.

In the wake of Watergate, G. Gordon Liddy became a folk hero for his willingness to endure prison rather than snitch, while his nemesis, H. R. Haldeman, reaped public disdain when he gleefully spilled his guts in exchange for leniency.

Although the medium of violent, profanity-laced rap video is hardly the vehicle to encourage a thoughtful dialogue on the subject, the issue of snitching ought to remain a matter of open debate.

In particular, here in Baltimore - where public confidence in the integrity and fairness of our police and judicial system has severely eroded - many people are faced with a real ethical dilemma: to snitch or not to snitch.

The Stop Snitching movement suggests that loyalty to peers and comrades trumps any coerced benefits or perceived moral obligations to a legal system too often perceived as corrupt, biased and inept.

William R. Garrison

Baltimore

Efficiency is key to cutting carbon

Paul Adams' article "Reality shorts out electricity goal" (Dec. 28) correctly highlights the potential of energy efficiency to lower household bills. His focus, however, on whether Maryland can meet Gov. Martin O'Malley's goal of reducing consumption 15 percent by 2015 overlooks Maryland's more fundamental electricity challenges.

Maryland continues to consume far more electricity than it generates, resulting in high prices and the possibility of summer shortages as soon as 2011.

Energy efficiency is a critical component of any solution to bring our bills down and keep our lights on.

Simply put, the cheapest kilowatt is the one not needed.

Gov. O'Malley's EmPower Maryland goal is ambitious but achievable.

Californians, for example, use roughly 42 percent less electricity per capita than Marylanders. And a recent report ranked Maryland's utilities 47th out of those in the 50 states in the amount they invest per customer in energy efficiency.

The solution is as close as our local hardware stores: Programmable thermostats, Energy Star appliances, and compact fluorescent light bulbs all help reduce energy consumption.

With appropriate incentives, Marylanders can make up-front energy-efficiency investments that will pay for themselves several times over in years to come.

And achieving the EmPower Maryland goal would avoid the use of 25 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is roughly the output of two large fossil-fuel power plants, and eliminate the emission of 35 billion pounds of CO2, which is equivalent to taking 3 million cars off the road.

Malcolm Woolf

Annapolis

The writer is director of the Maryland Energy Administration.

Cost of not planning can be much higher

Randal O'Toole argues that governments can't plan, period, and we should let the market do our planning ("When government plans, it usually fails," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 27).

That's a nice, simple solution that gets us off the hook of thinking long and hard about the consequences of the choices we make.

But if anyone doubts the value of government or government-sanctioned land-use planning, just compare some relatively well-planned areas (i.e. northern Baltimore County, western Montgomery County, Roland Park, the Inner Harbor area and Columbia, for example - places that look pretty good and function pretty well) to places with weak plans where market forces have predominated and created sprawling characterless suburbs or unwalkable arterial roads lined with their predatory strip-mall commercial centers.

Of course, plans are rarely perfect, and planners don't have perfect knowledge.

But if you think planning is not worthwhile, consider the costs and consequences of not planning - ugly sprawl that eats up our rural landscapes and unsustainable places that require needlessly expensive government services, cause pollution and are susceptible to natural disasters.

Clive Graham

Annapolis

The writer is a planning consultant for local governments.

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