O U R R E A D E R S W R I T E
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Armed with an answer
Bring back vo-tech
It takes a family
Fix our lead-laden houses
Police leaders as partners
Warnings from Detroit
How to make headway in Baltimore
Not all are miracles
Travel ad veers off course
The champs of '54
Michael Anft's truly heartbreaking story, "Like him right there" [June], must have inspired a great deal of serious thinking by many of your readers. Anna Sowers is a very courageous person, and one can only admire the steadfastness apparent in the article.
There are many aspects of the article that are worthy of discussion. In this note, I would like to address one aspect of a multifaceted problem. Anft writes: "When Zach [Sowers] reached his front steps, [Trayvon] Ramos, who outweighed Zach by 90 pounds, applied his heft and his fist to knock Zach out." The reader wonders how Zach could have defended himself against such a brutal attacker. In such a hopeless situation, Zach could not but be a helpless victim.
But Samuel Colt provided this problem with a technological solution more than 150 years ago. A reliable small revolver is indeed the "equalizer" that enables a smaller, weaker person to defend himself or herself against an overpowering attacker. If Sowers had been armed with a revolver, had been adequately trained in its use, and been willing to use it, the outcome might have been very different.
As it is, Maryland's draconian and probably
unconstitutional gun laws ensure that only criminals go
armed, while assuring criminals that their victims will be
defenseless. Such laws thereby promote violent street
crime. Baltimore's Mayor Sheila Dixon and Maryland's
Governor Martin O'Malley surround themselves with armed
escorts while denying law-abiding citizens safe and
effective means of self-defense. Dixon and O'Malley never
have to face alone the same mean streets down which Zachary
and Anna Sowers so heroically elected to walk every day and
every night of their brief, happy married life in
I was born on Essex Street in 1952, a couple of blocks below Patterson Park. I lived in the city boundaries for 48 years. I'm a true Baltimorean. I know more about the past 50 years' social and educational history of the city then the intellectual carpetbaggers that pass themselves off as professors, news reporters, or any other so-called pundits. Your articles on urban violence [June's cover package, "Urban Violence: Can We End the Epidemic?"] presented their views, so here's an alternative suggestion from someone who actually was raised here.
First some observations: In the article, there were presentations of the success of Safe Streets and interventions by members of the Child Development-Community Policing Program (CD-CP). Interesting concept — decrease the use of gun violence through mediation. A noble cause. The actual outcome is that it's now safer for drug dealers to do business. Are unions next? Another article presented the Incentive Mentoring Program. Mentoring programs are grand, for those who want to be mentored. What about those students who don't? Hmmm, not a word on them in the article.
Pre-1970, it was common for kids to go to vocational
schools. "Educational psychologists" forced abandonment of
trade schools in the 1970s. They believed that all kids
should just study academics and go to college. It's an
obvious fact that all students are not cut out to be
academicians. The result has been a huge rise in dropouts
from high schools (nearly 60 percent here in Baltimore)
with no skills, leading to drugs and other crimes. Kids,
starting in ninth grade, should be given a choice to remain
in academics or learn a trade such as auto mechanics, HVAC,
plumbing, carpentry, engineering, hair styling, nursing,
etc. Kids in the inner city would flock to schools offering
such courses. Then at 18 years old, instead of crime,
they'll actually work. Imagine high school seniors, with
four years of training behind them, revamping city homes,
fixing old buildings, helping their neighborhoods. The only
school with such a program now is the Reach School. History
proves vo-tech schools work.
Mr. Ham is a former high school math teacher and college professor.
I took great interest in your articles on urban violence. However, I took even more interest in the cover art for that issue. The picture depicts a flower and embedded in the leaves of the flower are drawings that include a woman playing with a small child, an adult male hugging a teenage boy, a man helping a young child to read, and an adult man teaching a young boy to ride a bike.
These pictures told as much as the article. Adults need to
be in the lives of these children who grow to become
violent teens. Adults need to be in their lives from
toddler years to teenage years. Men and women. Another word
for that is family. It may take a village to successfully
bring children to adulthood. But if that village is not
built on the solid foundation of family, it will soon
become — well, Baltimore.
In "Like him right there," you allude to the fact that the teenager, [Eric] Price, was lead poisoned as a child. While I do not excuse his behavior and feel tremendous sympathy for the victim, we will continue to have generations of violent inner-city children until we eliminate the environmental poison that is crippling them in the first place. Thirty years after lead was banned in paint, we continue to see the deteriorating lead-based paint in our substandard housing stock poison our children and, in disproportionate numbers, our African-American children.
All of the symptoms you describe Mr. Price exhibiting as a child — such as ADHD, language and reading disorders, aggression, lack of control, school failure, and involvement in the juvenile justice system — are hallmarks of childhood lead poisoning, which is 100 percent preventable. While the current CDC level of concern for lead poisoning is 10 micrograms/deciliter, new research linking early childhood lead poisoning at levels of 5 micrograms/deciliter and perhaps lower demonstrates that the brain suffers damage in areas that control executive function and aggression. The brain may experience an initial loss of up to 7.4 I.Q. points at even low levels of lead exposure. And there are lower-than-anticipated levels of grade-level school performance in reading and math when the child is exposed to lead at a young age. While Baltimore City has made tremendous strides to fix its lead-laden housing market, the reality is that far too many children are already damaged and destined for school failure and delinquency.
Targeted planning of Community Development Block Grant
(CDBG) and other housing funds to replace our aging housing
stock and a larger commitment by our federal government to
support healthy housing for all low-income children now
would save our local cities and education systems millions
of dollars in early intervention, special education, and
social services costs. The Johns Hopkins [Bloomberg] School
of Public Health has both the prestige and resources to
bring this vital health and social policy problem to the
national consciousness and create workable public policy
solutions to affordable housing. It will take an entire
community and, in fact, the entire nation to get serious
about lead poisoning to ensure that all children grow up in
healthy housing that does not destroy their potential
before they take their first steps out of the door to
I was disappointed that Johns Hopkins Magazine's
issue dedicated to the epidemic of urban violence fell
short of being comprehensive by failing to explore the
suppression and policing side of the solution continuum.
The Police Executive Leadership Program (PELP), a component
of the Division of Public
Safety Leadership located within the School of
Education, has bestowed graduate degrees for over a decade
to some of the most innovative and educated leaders in this
nation's law enforcement community. It would have been
interesting to hear the voices of these practitioners as
they approach the same epidemic of violence armed with best
practices learned while seeking advanced degrees from the
Johns Hopkins University. On the streets we challenge law
enforcement, researchers, and community members to work
together to prevent violent crime. This article missed the
opportunity to demonstrate how this partnership is fostered
at JHU, an approach unique to any other academic
institution in the nation.
From Detroit (generally known as "Murder City," today with a self-proclaimed "hip-hop" mayor), I have always known that predators lurked at crests above certain expressways in my hometown to descend violently upon motorists with car trouble. Major businesses long ago abandoned the inner city, including Hudson's department store, which once sponsored a nationally televised annual Thanksgiving Day parade. For decades few people of any color have chosen to linger in Motown after dark — if they have the option to leave. Restaurateurs have migrated to the suburbs. On the Detroit River there is a public property, Belle Isle, where throughout the summer months hundreds of inner-city residents find relief from the heat by grilling dinners and camping all night with their families, many sleeping in cars.
This is to say that while the efforts of Hopkins-affiliated
professionals are laudable, problems in Baltimore pale in
comparison to those in other large cities and that members
of the Hopkins community might best be served by some
commonsensical warnings: Avoid dark alleys and ghetto
neighborhoods at any time of day, carry Mace on your key
ring (at a cost of about $12), don't look like you have
something worth stealing (expensive sneakers, cell phone,
nice leather jacket, etc.).
There are many disturbing points raised in the article on urban violence, but what I fail to understand is that the onus of "trafficking a bit in black Baltimore" was put on Anna Sowers. Why is it in these matters that victims and their families are implored to walk in an assailant's shoes? Feeling sorry for them and gaining a better perspective on the root of horrific acts of violence, such as the one against Zach Sowers, does not change the fact that a man is dead. Let her be angry without having to understand why. She is at
least entitled to that. Do people like [Herbert] Brown
appreciate that these incidents only serve to propel the
worst stereotypes of the young African-American male
community? Spending time in the neighborhood cannot undo
that, but he can every Sunday in his community, and maybe
he could take the time to traffic in Baltimore as Anna
Sowers now sees it. Perhaps more headway could be made in
our efforts to prevent these terrible things from happening
if we all were on the same team, seeing the same issues
through each other's lens? It is clear that no amount of
effort by a largely non-African-American community can
break this cycle — only an army of Safe Streets
outreach workers in the city of Baltimore can achieve that.
And based on your article, the "highly influential" Black
25 appear to be unwilling to set an example of how to take
responsibility for one's actions, or inaction on their
part; perhaps we should redirect our community and
financial support to the Safe Streets organizations across
"Miracles for Sale" ["Essay," June]; my quibble is the
unwillingness of anyone, including "Guido Veloce," to take
the media to task for their utterly absurd and grotesquely
inappropriate use of the word. For example, without the
slightest hint of irony, reporters will quote people as
saying it was a "miracle" when one or two lives were spared
during a disaster, but blithely ignore the obvious
contradiction when 25 or 30 or more lives were lost in the
same disaster. This was especially grotesque recently, when
a church was destroyed by lightning and the subsequent
fire, and the locals praised God for allowing three or four
people to survive. How about the 20-odd people who were
killed? Wasn't that also God's doing?
Where is this Buthan, inviting a tour of Hopkins alumni in October [June, pg. 70]? Is that somewhere near Shangri-La? Or, could it be close by Bhutan?
Now, I know your staff can't proofread every advertisement in the magazine, but somehow a tour with an e-mail, alumni.jhu.edu, seems different from an ordinary commercial ad.
And by the way, thanks for your work. It is read closely,
as you can surmise.
An article on Blue Jay wrestling [Wholly Hopkins, "Fishel Caps
Great Career," April] states that "for the first time
in the program's history, Hopkins produced two conference
champions in one season." In the 1950s, Hopkins competed in
the Mason-Dixon Conference in all sports except lacrosse.
We won the M-D Conference in wrestling in 1954 and also had
two conference champions: Ron Armstrong at 123 (pounds),
and Lou Ruland at 130. It was a very good year!
Mr. Cochrane was Johns Hopkins' soccer and wrestling coach from 1953 to 1954.
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