Many Baltimore City residents and leaders took offense at Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell’s effort to blame recent disturbances at the Eastpoint Mall on city teens who “run wild” in the county — and for good reason. His remarks on Facebook that his district is “under siege by people who do not live or work here and have no idea how to act in a civil society,” city residents who “come to our community to do nothing more than commit crime or cause chaos” are not far removed from President Donald Trump’s talk of Mexican immigrants as rapists. The councilman is not just trafficking in stereotypes, he is acting as though people who live on the other side of an arbitrary line are somehow less civilized than those who live on his.
But the people who should really be upset about this are the residents of his district and the rest of Baltimore County. When leaders in the suburbs blame crime on the city, it may play well with a segment of the electorate, but it does nothing to make the community safe. In fact, pretending that crime is a threat from the city without acknowledging the county’s problems within only makes them worse.
No question, city residents do sometimes commit crimes in the suburbs. Debate about the Eastpoint Mall disturbances — one on Sunday night that led to 26 arrests, and another last month in which nine juveniles were arrested — is occurring at the same time as the trial of a city teen charged in the killing of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio. Sometimes, people from the suburbs commit crime in the city. That has long been true in regard to the drug trade, which has historically been more concentrated in the city than actual drug use has. But there are also occasional cases like the death of Jacquelyn Smith, a Harford County woman whose husband and step-daughter are accused of killing her in the city and attempting to blame it on panhandlers.
The line separating Baltimore City and County cuts neighborhoods in half, sometimes it even bisects individual houses. The property taxes and school systems may differ on one side or the other, but the people don’t. County politicians have profited for generations by pretending otherwise, by maintaining a fiction that everything bad is inside that line and everything good is outside of it. But it was never true, and it is becoming increasingly undeniable that addiction, homelessness, crumbling schools, poverty and, yes, crime exist on the county side of the line, too.
Baltimore County Exeuctive John A. Olszewski Jr., who, like Mr. Crandell, is from Dundalk, ran a campaign focused not on the myth of Baltimore County but on the reality that it faces challenges. We were pleased to see him reject the impulse to look for someone else to blame for the fights that have occurred at and around Eastpoint in the last few weeks and instead to look for meaningful solutions. As he noted, the county has faced issues like this in the past at the malls in Towson and White Marsh, and it has developed a template for how to handle them, including but not limited to youth curfews voluntarily imposed by the shopping centers. Better communication and coordination with police around major events, like the Jolly Shows Spring Carnival that was the locus of this weekend’s disturbance, is essential, too.
Mr. Crandell insists that he is not trying to point fingers but merely to stand up for his constituents who feel threatened. “It’s not us vs. them,” Mr. Crandell said in an interview. “We have severe public safety issues that the city has faced for a number of years coming into our neighborhoods.” He acknowledged that his district has its own challenges, but he says the recent ones at Eastpoint are imported. The arrest data have not been made publicly available (The Sun reported that those apprehended were juveniles), but “I’ve been told about it,” Mr. Crandell said. “It indicates exactly what I’m talking about.”
Even if he’s right, what would he do about it? Build a wall and get Baltimore City to pay for it?