Pubdate: Fri, 07 Apr 2000
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2000 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Author: Dan Rodricks


I heard a woman with many years of experience in the law here describe
the effort to make Baltimore safer through get-tough reforms of the
criminal justice system -- the establishment of a 24-hour court, the
employment of aggressive New York-style police tactics -- as "the
attempt to bail out a sinking boat with a rotten hull." The rot, in
her metaphor, was drug addiction.

Cynical maybe. But who can argue with that?

At the core of Baltimore's crime problem is heroin and

And it's not just the city's problem. It's Maryland's. Drug addiction
is a poison that filters from the city to the suburbs and back again.
Baltimore might be the sports, cultural and economic center of
Maryland, but it's also the prime market for heroin and coke. In
addition to the thousands of addicts we call our own, we have
dope-heads driving here from the Washington suburbs and southern
Pennsylvania to take advantage of our daily street sales.

Drug addiction is often at the root of crime, family dysfunction,
child abuse, the abandonment of neighborhoods.

Yeah, I know: We've been hip to this for a long time.

But for a long time, the war on drugs was largely a supply-side war,
aimed at drug traffickers and dealers, when the attack should have
gone more demand-side, aimed at addicts.

In recent years the city intensified its strategy for treating addicts
and increased funding by millions of dollars. But it hasn't been
enough to handle the demand. There are waiting lists for treatment. We
have between 55,000 and 60,000 drug addicts, and funding for 6,600
treatment slots.

This year, the health commissioner, Peter Beilenson, asked for an
additional $40 million toward more comprehensive drug treatment to be
implemented over the next year or so.

Pie in the sky maybe, but Beilenson put his job on the

"If Baltimore's crime rate is not cut in half within three years of
obtaining $40 million in additional funding for drug treatment," he
said, "I will resign."

No one took him up on the offer.

That includes the governor of Maryland, who owes his political life to
the city of Baltimore, and the lieutenant governor, who will need
voters here to support her likely campaign for the state's top job in

The new mayor, Martin O'Malley, had asked the Glendening
administration for $25 million for drug treatment to back up his
24-hour court at the Central Booking and Intake Center. The state had
a record budget surplus of $1 billion, and billions more coming its
way from the settlement of the lawsuit against Big Tobacco. This
should have been the year the city got what it needed for a
full-throttle attack on drug addiction.

But, after cutting deals left and right to get support for his
gun-lock bill and other pet projects, the governor came up with $8
million to help Baltimore deal with its most destructive problem.
Eight million bucks is nothing to sneer at, but it doesn't come close
to what the city needs. The boat is still sinking. The hull is still
rotten. And all the governor did was hand Baltimore another bucket.

Strangers saved her life

Tuesday morning, March 21. Heavy rain. Rush hour, 8: 25 a.m. Anne
Arundel County ( , Route 100 at the
on-ramp to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. In that place at that
time on that day in those conditions, we find Marion Harris at the
wheel of her 1994 Ford Explorer.

As the Explorer approaches the parkway, it hits a sheet of water and
goes into a long spin and slide. The police call it hydroplaning.
Sometimes you can come out of it safely. Sometimes you can't. Marion
Harris doesn't.

The Explorer not only bounces off the road, but it flips and lands in
a muddy ditch. Harris, a middle-aged college professor from Columbia,
finds herself suddenly seated upside down, strapped into her seat, and
the seat belt pulling painfully against her midsection. She reaches
the seat belt buckle but can't release it. She keeps pressing the
wrong side of it. Harris is a diabetic, and now, with her body under
stress, she feels confused, disoriented, shocked and weak.

Suddenly faces appear at her window -- three strangers out of the rush
hour, already wet and muddy. A woman and two men. "Are you all right?
ELLIPIS Hold on, we'll help you!" One of the men opens the rear hatch
of the Explorer, crawls through, reaches Harris, cradles her head and
neck and releases the seat belt. He passes Harris to the other man.
Police and an ambulance are there by the time Harris, dazed, gets to
her feet. No broken bones. The strangers disappear as quickly as they
arrived. Harris never gets their names.

But she is so grateful, so immensely grateful. She's in therapy for a
sprained back and an injured knee, and thinks every day about those
muddy rush-hour strangers. "I've been blessed," she says. "They saved
my life."

A historic tour

Joey Amalfitano, TJI cultural correspondent, reports:

"Sunday, which, as you might recall, was chilly and overcast, Maxine
and I visited local artist Debbie Lynn Zwieback, who had her art
opening at the Whistling Oyster in Fells Point. Debbie is OFP (Old
Fells Point, pre-yuppie). There were so many people they were spilling
out of the bar onto the sidewalk. Debbie has fought back big-time from
injuries she suffered in an auto accident five years ago, and I'm here
to tell you that she and her kaleidoscopic art are doing fine. Show
runs through the month.

"Afterwards, we went through Canton, via O'Donnell Street, and we knew
we were out of Yuppieville when we passed Desiree's Minute Mart.
Although there was lots of graffiti on the old breweries on Conkling
Street, we were buoyed by the contrast with Sacred Heart of Jesus
church and rectory, right near there. This beauty is 125 years old and
thriving. Josie, a dedicated parish worker, tells me the 6: 30 morning
Mass is still well attended on weekdays during Lent. And to show you
some things remain healthy in Highlandtown, the ladies at Sacred Heart
- -- God bless 'em -- sell hundreds of fish cakes and crab cakes every
Friday during Lent. Fish cakes are 75 cents each or $9 a dozen. But
you got to order them by Monday if you want them by Friday, though you
can always take a chance they'll have leftovers. That's the word."
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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea