Even though we know better, it's still hard for those of us who have lived in Harford County any amount of time to accept that Bel Air is no longer a safe, sleepy, small town.
Those of us who have lived here a long time wonder what how our quiet county became so dangerous. How dangerous? Anyone going to or from Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air Saturday night, who decided to stop for gas at the adjacent Exxon station, could have been subjected to random gunfire. As could anyone driving on Route 24. Granted, the shooting happened at about 11 on a weekend night when few people would ordinarily be going in and out of the medical complex, but that's not the point.
The point is there was a time not all that long ago when that kind of thing was unheard of in Bel Air and Harford County. Saturday night's shooting wasn't, or at least shouldn't have been, surprising since we've been through gang wars, gang initiation murders, drug dealers flooding the county, a witness in a DEA case being murdered to silence her and all sorts of mayhem. It was only last summer when a private party at a Bel Air American Legion Post on Bond Street became a murder scene. That murder scene grew out of an earlier crime scene in Edgewood. The Harford County Detention Center – our county jail – has been dealing for years with keeping members of rival gangs segregated. And on and on it goes.
About half an hour or so before the attendant was shot at the Exxon gas station at the corner of Route 24 and West MacPhail Road, an armed robber was thwarted at the High's store near the Festival at Bel Air shopping center when the clerk hit the alarm. Then came word Thursday that not only are both of those crimes related, but also they are related to a series of similar robberies in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
Again, none of this is surprising. It's been going on for longer than a decade as more people fled Baltimore to get away from just such crime, only to have the criminals follow them. As Willie Sutton, the renowned bank robber, is credited with saying (though there is some doubt whether he said it or not), he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." The same applies to Harford County. Comparatively speaking, that's where the money and other things are and where robbers need to be to make hay.
Some of us remember when hay was a Harford County staple, symbolic only of the neighborly and safe place of bygone days.