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Bring Back Context, Please

Posted 2/2/2005

You might as well end the Murder Ink column if you are so willing to kowtow to the demands for political correctness demanded by your letter writers (“Proper Epitaphs,” The Mail, Jan. 26).

The Murder Ink column, until this recent change, was the only place to fulfill all the traditional “five W’s,” especially the “how” of reporting these murders, specifically by placing the crime in its proper context by providing the background information you now choose to shield. True, the arrest records of victims and suspects are not necessarily relative to the incident at hand, but the evidence otherwise is rather overwhelming. When some acquaintance wails about how “the media” ignores the murders of African-Americans but overdoses on the murder of a Hopkins student, I am able to wave a pile of your columns and say, “This is why nobody cares—they were obviously in a violent business or environment voluntarily, and they were about as sympathetic a victim as a mountain climber who falls to his death.” And they tend to go pretty quiet after some reflection.

True, the fact that someone has an arrest record doesn’t make them any less human. However, it now comforts me, after a year of reading Murder Ink, to realize that because neither my wife nor I have arrest records or involvement in the drug trade our odds of being murdered in this city are, for all practical purposes, statistically less than dying in an auto accident or by falling on icy pavement.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV
Baltimore

 

Toll Calls

I just read your Jan. 19 article “The Toll.” Nationally homicides are down in all U.S. cities with the exception of St. Louis, Detroit, and Baltimore! I am amazed at the loss of life in Baltimore, yet we seldom hear any outcry.

I applaud the work of the activist featured and wonder why he has not received the support from City Hall and the state needed to address this epidemic of homicides in Baltimore City. The city and the state seem to spend enormous amounts of money, yet dollars for prevention activities are slow to reach communities devastated by crime and violence.

I often wonder what the response from the city would be if white males were being killed at the same rate as black males? When the young white male John Hopkins University student was killed last year, the police issued a “dragnet” for the entire community surrounding the university. Hundreds of black males are killed every year in the city, yet I never witnessed a similar response from the police or outcry from the larger community.

David Miller
Chief Visionary Officer, Youth Development Center, Urban Leadership Institute
Baltimore

 

I wanted to express my admiration for Anna Ditkoff’s moving piece on the city’s recent homicides and the communitywide despair from which they have arisen. As a journalist and university professor who has struggled to understand, write about, and teach issues of race, poverty, and violence, I was deeply impressed by the legwork she did to capture what is an inherently frightening and complex subject. Her writing was exceptionally vivid and compelling, and her willingness to listen to the people living amid these grinding circumstances was laudable.

The number of deaths in our city neighborhoods runs parallel to the deaths we read about every day in Iraq, and makes it plain that our own country is witness to a cancerous domestic war to which it devotes astonishingly little attention and even less compassion. None of the statistical, bureaucratic language that is thrown at the situation can capture it the way a strong piece of journalism can, and Ms. Ditkoff—and your paper as a whole—are to be complimented for taking on this critical work.

McKay Jenkins
Baltimore

 

Bowlin for Insensitivity?

Ms. Lindsay Tyler Bowlin (“For Whom the Toll?”, The Mail, Jan. 26): I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you’re white, middle-class, and somewhat educated, like me. We went to school, studied, and now we are doing alright for ourselves. We worked hard and now it’s paying off. We are “responsible” members of society. And why shouldn’t everyone else be that way?

I wonder if you’ve ever spoken to a Terrell Fowlkes; have you ever tried to talk a drug dealer making $600 on a single drug run into quitting and getting a job at McDonald’s to flip hamburgers for $6 an hour? Have you ever tried to tell an African-American living in poverty to play it straight so that they, like their neighbors, can live a life of poverty? To understand the situation of people like Fowlkes, you must first realize what utter hopelessness is like, and then you need to explore the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, this country is not an Equal Opportunity Employer.

You are correct in saying that social programs are treating symptoms of a greater problem instead of addressing the illness itself. However, the illness is intolerance such as yours. “They” “can go cry me a river”? Who is “they” exactly? Is it the people that continue to perpetuate the notions of silly poor people who expect more than poverty?

You mention the “benefits” of the street life, such as money and cars. You left out other benefits such as prison and death. Do you actually think it’s fun and easy to live in the area of East Baltimore that recorded 50 deaths last year? Maybe you’ve been watching too many music videos.

I hope that your abrasive turning away from the likes of the many Terrell Fowlkes of Baltimore can suppress and extinguish your conscience that is evident in the writing of such an extended essay to City Paper. We all need to help. And we can do that by volunteering and supporting social/community programs, not by perpetuating stern indifference through letters to newspapers.

Greg Kelley
Baltimore

 

A Cop-Gap Measure

It’s a damn shame that the officers who put themselves in danger and sustain injuries should be treated like broken-down machines and retired—or terminated (“In the Line of Fire,” Mobtown Beat, Jan. 19).

The least that can be done for these unfortunate people is to have a preference established with the local security agencies so that, with their pensions, they can keep their heads above water. Most of these people have already been trained and most likely would do an excellent job. While this would not solve the problem, it certainly would help.

Philip A. Thayer
Baltimore

 

Thanks for Remembering

Wow. All these years I’ve been doing theater, I’ve been laboring under the misconception that you had to actually be involved in a production to get a bad review (“Border Strife,” Stage, Jan. 26). Thank you so much for setting me straight. That’s pretty cool.

And thank you so much for the compliment. Even though you didn’t like my production of The Play About the Baby—you really didn’t like it, evidently—how gratifying to know that it made such an impression that you’re still thinking about it months later.

Theater is such an ephemeral art. Months of preparation, weeks of rehearsal, hours of building sets and hanging lights are all torn apart in a couple of hours after the last show. No physical traces of it remain. We who do this work always appreciate it when our work is thought-provoking enough to last in someone’s memory.

Alex “Butterfingers” Willis
Baltimore

 

Editor’s note: In last week’s City Paper, the Nose wrote about a recent piece reported by WYPR (88.1 FM) reporter Melody Simmons that bore a striking resemblance, the Nose thought, to a story done by the Sun’s Doug Donovan in the daily paper a few weeks earlier (“All the News That’s Fit to Copy?”, The Nose, Jan. 26). Both stories featured similar angles and the same sources quoted—sufficient similarities to make it remarkable, literally. I received a call from Ms. Simmons last Tuesday afternoon, well after most of the paper had already been sent to our printer, upset about what she had heard about the story from WYPR news director Fraser Smith, who spoke to the Nose for its write-up. Simmons told me she was out of town when Donovan’s story ran, that her Sun subscription had in fact lapsed, and that, in short, she hadn’t seen his piece before reporting hers.

For what it’s worth, I believed her. I went back to the copy we had already sent to our press, added a brief response from her to the question the Nose raised, changed a line referring to the pieces as “virtually identical” to the more accurate “remarkably similar,” and slightly edited the piece for length so that it did not so much question Simmons’ or WYPR’s integrity as question their diligence and enterprise, both of which, it seemed to me, were still worth commenting on in this instance.

Unfortunately, the corrected version I asked our production department to send never made it to the actual press plate. While the edited, approved version went up on our web site, the version without Simmons’ side and with some of the original piece’s more provocative remarks was printed in the paper. And thus I received a poetically just reminder of the sort of human fallibility that even the most ostensibly diligent and enterprising journalists fall victim to now and then. Printing the wrong story about a lame story isn’t exactly a proud moment.

All of which is to say that while I stand behind the version that ran on our web site, I regret running the version that ran in our Jan. 26 issue and any implications of a lapse in journalistic ethics at WYPR the story may have made.

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