Personal duty at heart of mayor's anti-crime message

The Baltimore Sun

The mayor's public schedule looked like her very own police blotter yesterday.

She talked about crime to high school students, honored cops who helped reduce homicides and tried to get people to stop leaving valuables in their cars to keep them from being broken into.

In the span of three hours at three separate events in West Baltimore and downtown, Sheila Dixon addressed one of the most serious ills of a violent city and one of the most aggravating nuisance crimes in a place some people are afraid to visit, and found herself in front of audiences both broken by disorder and governed by order.

She struggled to control a raucous crowd at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, where she spoke to kids in the dark because the auditorium lights were broken, leaving school administrators embarrassed, mayoral aides angry and the mayor, perhaps for the first time, thanking television cameras for literally shining a light on her administration.

But despite bungles by Dixon's advance team or the school's principal for not flipping the light switch well before the city's chief executive showed, the mayor persevered. She climbed down from the dark stage and stood on the floor to be "closer to the children."

There was no extra microphone, so she invited the students to stand with her to ask their questions. They hated their uniforms (which did not win points with the uniform-loving mayor), wanted to start later and end earlier, sought better teachers and pleaded to be separate from the middle school in the same complex.

Dixon steered clear of the reason she came - to discuss a stabbing last week on the basketball court outside the complex on Harlem Avenue - and instead talked about ways she and others could make their days better and safer. It was after the TV lights had dimmed and she was out in the well-lit hallway that she ran into Dominique Brunson, a 17-year-old senior.

He put his arms around Dixon's shoulder and told her about how he wanted to fight a Crips gang member at the start of the year but the principal and a school police officer learned of the planned altercation, called both youths into an office and negotiated a truce. The dispute, Dominique said: "I bumped into him and didn't apologize."

Dominique said he feels safe inside the building - the complex has 1,500 students between the high school and lower schools and two school police officers - but he does not feel safe walking back and forth to his home. The problem, he said pointing to a door, "is out there, in Baltimore City."

The mayor then sped to police headquarters, where instead of having to repeatedly admonish her audience to be quiet and respectful, she had 230 police officers standing at rapt attention as she walked to the podium. There, she helped hand out pins to members of a violent-crimes task force for last year's 20-year low in murders.

An hour later, Dixon was demanding sunglasses to ward off the glare as she stood on East Baltimore Street to announce a "Park Smart, Leave Your Car Empty" campaign to help prevent auto break-ins.

She stood next to police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III as he brought out pictures his officers took of cars parked downtown.

Inside one was a fishing rod. "This is a quick five bucks to someone," he said, "and in an instant it's sold." He then showed a picture of a TV set in a car's back seat. Then came a picture of a purse on a passenger seat.

The commissioner reminded people to remove loose change, battery chargers, anything that might invite someone to break in - simple advice, he said, no different from what your parents taught you when you got your first license.

He inadvertently hit on the mayor's theme of the day: personal responsibility. Teachers and cops, all public servants, need to provide a safe place for us to learn, live, work and play. But we all have a stake in our community and a duty to help make our city better.

The principal and cop at Augusta Fells Savage did the talking, but it was Dominique who had to stand down from a fight. It's not a bad lesson for us all.

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