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Martial law on-demand in Baltimore
May 17, 2007 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Public gatherings restricted? Check. Shutdown of independent businesses? Check. Lockdown on traffic and transportation in the area? You bet. Lawmakers in Baltimore trying to curb the city's homicide rate (already 108 this year) have come up with some "desperate measures" of questionable constitutional legality, including heightening police presence in order to lockdown streets in "emergency areas." It has been called, "partial martial law" by some, and one has to wonder if the city of Baltimore may not do better to take a page from The Wire's Hamsterdam for a solution to their inextricably linked drug and homicide issues.
posted by dead_ (60 comments total)

 
Lt. Al Giardello would not approve.
posted by justgary at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


This country would be a better place if everyone watched The Wire.

Seriously.
posted by uri at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2007


uri: most definitely. I also highly recommend the book "The Corner," written back in the 90s by the two guys behind The Wire. It's probably the most lucid look at inner-city and urban issues from both street-level and policy-level standpoints that I've ever read.
posted by dead_ at 12:45 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


This country would be a better place if everyone watched The Wire.

Because there would be one crime free 52 minutes.
posted by srboisvert at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2007 [5 favorites]


bugmenot for the win.

I would love to see a city try something other than draconian style lockdowns to solve civil unrest problems. Do they believe that when the restrictions are removed that everyone will be happier and not in a mindset to hurt people? Or are they just interested in keeping the crime metrics down.

No, what I would love to see is something honestly radical. Legalize pot. It would cut down on the number of people drinking and thereby reduce the violence associated with mean drunks.

It might also attract tourists and end up being a boon the the restaurants in the area, but that would be a side effect.

Whenever something like this happens, they always go with the strong-arm, martial law lockdown, and it never works. Try something different this time.
posted by quin at 12:51 PM on May 17, 2007


I'm surprised there hasn't been more interest in the rising crime rates across the country. Either we had been in a cyclical period of decline, or things done during the 90s at both the federal and local level were effective, and the lack of funding for them now has reaped increases in crime.
posted by drezdn at 12:52 PM on May 17, 2007


This country would be a better place if everyone watched The Wire.

Well, maybe you should buy everyone an HBO subscription, elitist!

---

Anyway, I don't think city-level decriminalization would reduce that sort of violent crime, because in order to get drugs in the first place, you still need a connection to bigger dealers.

And really the reason crime exists around drugs is not that they are not decriminalized, but that there is no government enforcement of contracts. The only way to solve disputes in an illegal organization is with violence. Only if drugs were completely legal, and participants in the drug market were able to sue each other would you see the crime issues go away completely.

I think another problem here is simply a cultural acceptance of violence among participants in the market, and a willingness to do business with violent people.

But yes this problem would almost completely go away if the drugs were legalized and regulated, and contracts were enforced by the government.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


No, what I would love to see is something honestly radical. Legalize pot. It would cut down on the number of people drinking and thereby reduce the violence associated with mean drunks.

Come on, it's not pot these people are getting shot over.
posted by delmoi at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2007


Legalize pot.

The biggest thing preventing this is the Federal government. Local governments have tried baby steps towards it (medical marijuana for example), only to watch the feds come in.
posted by drezdn at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2007


take a page from The Wire's Hamsterdam for a solution to their inexorably linked drug and homicide issues.


Actually, The Wire took a page from Baltimore history. Sometime in the 90s I think, Mayor Kurt Schmoke had the temerity to float the idea that perhaps drug legalization should be considered. it cost him his job.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:00 PM on May 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Baltiless?
posted by srboisvert at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, what I would love to see is something honestly radical. Legalize pot. It would cut down on the number of people drinking and thereby reduce the violence associated with mean drunks.


typical stoner nonsense that gives a good cause a bad name.

I don't care much at all if drugs are "legalized." De-criminalized, absolutely, but there's a difference.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2007


Um, I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but I don't think pot is the main drug at the root of violent crime here. I'd say it's split more evenly between meth and heroin. Yes, I live in Baltimore. Yes, The Wire fucks up traffic here.
posted by kalessin at 1:03 PM on May 17, 2007


I don't watch the Wire, does it advocate decriminalization in a situation like this?
posted by quin at 1:04 PM on May 17, 2007


drjimmy11, that's fascinating. Thanks for the info. I think that just underscores the kind of animosity that still exists toward those who try to think outside the box in terms of solving the inner-city drug problems that are plaguing so many American cities.

I mean, there really are places that would make Average Joe & Jane USA faint were they to take a stroll through, and the lack of coverage and attention these people get is just saddening.
posted by dead_ at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2007


dead_ Ever since I finished watching straight through seasons 1-4, both The Corner and Homicide have been on my reading list, simply on the strength of the show. It's good to know that I won't be disappointed.

I should probably reiterate that I wasn't being facetious with my earlier comment. The show is truly exceptional when it comes to not shying away from complexity, both in terms of narrative and the issues it addresses.

On preview: The show doesn't really advocate any particular viewpoint, save that the status quo is merely a state of accepted disfunction.
posted by uri at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2007


Yeah, yeah, it's obvious to bring up The Wire when Baltimore comes up, but seriously. Watch it. Especially when martial law comes up. It reminds me of the Hamsterdam subplot, which was one of the most thoughtful portrayals of reform ever.

Quelling drug crime will require different solutions than simply amping up police presence. It will require stronger solutions than simply legalizing pot, too - not that that wouldn't be a wise first step.

Airing the government's complicity, be it direct or indirect, with the continued state of affairs regarding cocaine trafficking, would be a pretty great start, although I'm not holding my breath. People need to realize that the Drug War as a whole is idiotic and corrupt.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2007


ugh, dysfunction
posted by uri at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2007


I don't watch the Wire, does it advocate decriminalization in a situation like this?

Wire season 3 spoiler warning: A police captain designates a section of his part of the city as an open air drug market, where the police will not enforce the drug laws. It moves the dealers who had been killing each other over territory into a section where they wouldn't harm citizens (ie. non-drug people). The plan mostly works (though not entirely) until a journalist starts poking around.
posted by drezdn at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2007


uri, go get The Corner today. Seriously, that book should have won a Pulitzer.
posted by dead_ at 1:08 PM on May 17, 2007


Bah, only 108 so far this year and they're declaring martial law? Back when I lived there in the 90s, there was almost one homicide every day - 353 in 2003 alone. They're slipping.

I'm trying to imagine a world or a Baltimore where the resources devoted to the war on drugs are used instead for sane things, like real poverty programs and education and, oh, I don't know, housing subsidies and community gardens; you know, stuff that makes a real difference in peoples' lives. If drugs were legal and all that money was put towards helping people out then maybe so many people wouldn't do drugs. . .

Nah. Must just be my inner hippie bullshit artist speaking. More arrests for an already completely overworked legal system and more jail time in overcrowded jails - that'll show 'em. Especially when they get out of jail and go back to rat infested slums where there are no jobs but the ones on the street.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:08 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oops, I meant 1993, not 2003. Sorry, too many drugs.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2007


quin: "...Or are they just interested in keeping the crime metrics down."

That pretty much pins the proverbial tail on the proverbial donkey.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2007


I don't watch the Wire, does it advocate decriminalization in a situation like this?

Season 3 goes into the positives and negatives of decriminalization with admirable evenhandedness. Ultimately, the show demands that society always consider reform critically, to reform wisely, and to know the motivations of reformers - be they sincere, false, or merely opportunistic.

What results is neither a hippie's dream nor Nancy Reagan's predicted dystopia.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:12 PM on May 17, 2007


...including heightening police presence in order to lockdown streets in "emergency areas."

Philadelphia did this more than once; here it was called Operation Sunrise, then Safe Streets and later Safer Streets. Each time it was expensive and ineffectual. The problem with flooding areas of urban violence with authority is that it only causes the problems to diffuse. Officials never give drug gangs enough credit. They know how to react to and stay ahead of these surges in authority. They know how to manipulate technology to come up with new delivery strategies. They know they can outlast the city's ability to afford all the extra man hours and overtime.

Last week, the Philly Weekly demonstrated what happens when you flood known drug areas with authority in their article, Top Ten Drug Corners (disclosure: I contributed to the article and am quoted in it). The drugs spread out over time to encompass a larger area, as does the violence. Once the drugs corners have spread out over a larger area, the authorities have to spread themselves thin to try and cover all the new cop spots. Then activity flares up in the old areas. The whole thing is a massive clusterfuck that accomplishes absolutely nothing.

There's a larger principal at work, here. I'm sure it's already named and someone here knows its name and will provide it. I'm talking about flooding of armed authority into areas of urban violence that causes the violence to simply diffuse over a larger area. Especially when the violence is organized and the mecanism driving it is willing to adapt and be patient.

You know, like basically exactly what's also happening right now in Iraq.
posted by The Straightener at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Philadelphia did this more than once; here it was called Operation Sunrise, then Safe Streets and later Safer Streets.

It may be called "Stop and Frisk" next time around.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2007


Just anecodatally, a club night that I was involved with changed locations from South East Washington DC (the 'bad' part of DC) to a club 4 blocks from the Inner Harbor (the 'good' part of baltimore).

In 5 years of attending the club in DC, the only crime that me or any of my friends were victims of were car break-ins.

In less than a year in baltimore, there were multiple carjackings at gun points, one of my friends with pistol-whipped on the street during a mugging and another was killed in an execution-style double murder.

Baltimore scares the shit out of me.
posted by empath at 1:17 PM on May 17, 2007


So half a percent of Baltimore's city population gets murdered in year, and the leaders feel that stripping nearly random and statistically innocent citizens of their liberties is justified?

If some foreign entity were invading Baltimore and instituting these measures, wouldn't at least 108 residents lay down lives fighting for freedom?

I know being murdered is a different story, but when the conversation is about the limiting of constitutional freedoms, the perspective has to be the cost to society.
posted by chudmonkey at 1:18 PM on May 17, 2007



Guns, baby. You wanna get draconian? Get rid of the guns.

Make owning a gun a huge pain in the ass. Make getting bullets a huge pain in the ass.

NYC enacted very strict laws against handguns and it was a big help in reining in the crime problem.

Respectfully, legalizing pot would not do a thing. On reflection marijuana prohibition laws don't really make much sense, if especially because pot use generally doesn't lead to violence like, say, alcohol.

But seriously - pot legalization = derail.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2007


NYC enacted very strict laws against handguns and it was a big help in reining in the crime problem.

I'm a big fan of the subway signs reading, "Illegal possession of a loaded handgun means 3 1/2 years in jail. Period. End of story."

But seriously - pot legalization = derail.

Oh, yes. Nobody's getting shot for something you can grow in your closet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:24 PM on May 17, 2007


So half a percent of Baltimore's city population gets murdered in year,

I hope that's not correct, because that means in 10 years, 5% of the city will be murdered.
posted by smackfu at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2007


inexorably inextricably linked
posted by Joe Invisible at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2007


Sorry, it's more like .05% of Baltimore's population.
posted by chudmonkey at 1:32 PM on May 17, 2007


pot use generally doesn't lead to violence like, say, alcohol.

I know when I drink, I get violently unfunny. Lamp shade hats and all.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:35 PM on May 17, 2007


I'm reading The Corner right now, actually, and it's pretty amazing. Check out the Dystopic Non-Fiction section of your local library or bookstore today!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:43 PM on May 17, 2007


I agree with you re: guns, From Bklyn. Philadelphia has been trying to establish its own gun laws, but has received active opposition from the do-nothings in the state house. I know this is about Baltimore, this thread, but the two cities are in similar straits in many ways.
posted by Mister_A at 1:44 PM on May 17, 2007


Chris Rock had a great idea on curbing gun violence a few years back. Also, what an awesome suit.
posted by Mister_A at 1:47 PM on May 17, 2007


One thing to keep in mind with increasing murder rates. It might be a good idea to keep in mind that part of the murder deflation comes from increases in medical technology partially due to the high crime rates in the 80s. So, it's possible more people are getting shot or attacked now, but they are more likely to live.
posted by drezdn at 2:02 PM on May 17, 2007


It bears repeating: have we learned nothing from Hamsterdam??
posted by basicchannel at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2007


I don't care much at all if drugs are "legalized." De-criminalized, absolutely, but there's a difference.

Yes, there is a difference. But how would that difference be any better for society? How exactly is de-criminalization better then legalization?
posted by delmoi at 2:31 PM on May 17, 2007


How exactly is de-criminalization better then legalization?

Decrim, it just falls off their radar.

Legalized, it must be regulated, taxed, advertised, etc etc.
posted by davelog at 2:53 PM on May 17, 2007


From Bklyn : But seriously - pot legalization = derail.

I disagree. We've seen other cities where they have tried the lockdown method, and thus far it's been yet to be proved really effective. And it seems entirely unfair to punish law abiding people for the actions of the criminals. My argument at least attempts to try a novel approach to the problem.

City wide lockdowns are merely treating the symptom, when they remove the restrictions, the criminals will still be there.

So the next step is to go after what is creating the criminals. The drug culture seems an obvious suspect, so how do we deal with that? One school of though would be to crack down on the drug using criminals and incarcerate as many of them as possible. This doesn't work (witness the war on drugs) as it locks up as many harmless users as it does dangerous dealers and producers. And even worse, once those harmless users have cycled through the system, they will generally be far more dangerous than they were when they went it.

The question then becomes, 'how do you make the drug culture less dangerous' and the easiest way to do that, is to remove the incentives of being a part of it. But legalizing all drugs might generate even more chaos. So you do it in a controlled way. Studies have shown that marijuana is largely harmless. Legalize that first, see what the effect on the city is, if necessary move into legalizing additional drugs.

I'm not saying that it's the solution, I'm saying it's a solution, and one that hasn't even been tried yet.
posted by quin at 3:01 PM on May 17, 2007


Come on, it's not pot these people are getting shot over.

I used to think the same thing, but since January, I've heard about two marijuna trafficking-related homicides. They usually don't give more information than "guy was shot, he dead now," so it could be many more crimes related to the marijuana trade.
posted by jdotglenn at 3:02 PM on May 17, 2007


I'm not saying that it's the solution, I'm saying it's a solution, and one that hasn't even been tried yet.

Not that marijuana decriminalization isn't a good idea, but many of these really dangerous gangs truck in crack/cocaine and heroin. Those drugs are much harder sells to decriminalize or legalize, unless you radically rethink the War On Drugs in general.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:14 PM on May 17, 2007


See also: San Francisco's "containment zones."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:18 PM on May 17, 2007


I love how every time some government tries to change the "innocent until proven guilty" tenet into "everyone is probably guity, at any time," they tout it as "public safety." The Ministry of Peace is really the Ministry of War and whatnot.

As for lessons from Hamsterdam: If Hamsterdam were the only place I could get weed, I'd stop smoking it. Which is to say, (the weed) does not equal (heroin/crack/cocaine/etc.). That was some provocative imagery of a junkie hell, and probably not far from what would happen in the short-term. Hooray for not being into crack.

Is it safe to suggest that Hamsterdam was able to reduce the murder rate because it removed political and geographic restraints and refocused the dealer's attention on how to compete in a free market? What a social and economic experiment.

I cannot recommend The Wire enough. There's never been a show that treated the issues it addresses with such thoughtfulness. There are no "good guys," just people in better economic and social circumstances who have better options. Bubbles has to be one of the most poignant characters I've ever seen depicted on the small screen. If you haven't yet, please watch this show. I didn't always have HBO, so Netflix was the my savior. The discs couldn't come fast enough. Watch it any way you can.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:44 PM on May 17, 2007


It has been called, "partial martial law" by some

I have nothing to do with this.
posted by Partial Law at 3:51 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think people should stop using drugs. And carrying guns. Can we just agree to that? Huh?
posted by MarshallPoe at 4:55 PM on May 17, 2007


From Bklyn, There is ample evidence that gun control increases crime rates, and while it is mostly from biased sources so is the evidence for a decrease in crime rate from gun control. At the risk of insulting your intelligence I'll point out that gun control measures require a lot more than a ban on purchase to be effective. What intrigues me about US homicide, is that even after you subtract out all of the firearms related homicide, the per-capita rate of homicide is greater than most EU countries combined homicide rates (firearms and non-firearms). What that means to me is that we live in a violent culture.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:23 PM on May 17, 2007


"Make owning a gun a huge pain in the ass."

Oh brother, not this bullshit again.

Because the draconian anti-gun laws in Washington DC worked so well.
New York is also pretty damn expensive to live in, and the areas that are more affordable (read: the projects) are still full of criminal thugs.
San Francisco has the same exact problem.

Delmoi is right. It isn't pot that people are getting shot over. Out here in Oakland it's almost always a black man shooting another black man and meth is involved. (Sad but true statistic. Link.)
posted by drstein at 11:04 PM on May 17, 2007


The hours I spent riding MTA buses on my last trips "home" convinced me the poor black neighborhoods (half of Baltimore these days, geographically speaking) are themselves emptying out; at least a third of the old rowhouses sit empty and about all you can buy legally in those areas is cheap booze and fried chicken and fish. (I'm not putting THOSE down, I love washing down Lake Trout with Old Crow myself.) What the City should do is bring back the "$1 rowhouse" deal from the '80s, so people like my "SO" could buy the basically structurally sound property and put people like me to work fixing up the drywall and windows (since I can't cook for toffee and must be good for something, though I'd leave the plumbing and wiring to the pros). One idea (which is also not original) is that a bunch of us Urban Homesteaders would settle in in the same small area (for mutual safety and carpentry assistance) and make our own little niche. (NOT GENTRIFICATIONIST.)
posted by davy at 12:05 AM on May 18, 2007


Another way to look at SF's Lower Polk district (where I lived for two years in the '90s and loved it).
posted by davy at 12:24 AM on May 18, 2007


davy, that idea could potentially help, but keep in mind that Baltimore already has been encouraging that sort of thing. Not for $1, but usually several thousand. Mostly you get speculators and flippers, but maybe with more bureaucracy, you could make sure the houses were going to the right people. Maybe.
posted by kalessin at 4:20 AM on May 18, 2007


I'm not looking to crowd anyone's 2nd amendment rights. I am saying that yet another facet of the problem that is not being addressed as intelligently as it could be _guns_, should be. If you want to stump for the N.R.A., knock yourself out but they do pay people to do it for them (and if you're not getting your cut, well, maybe you want to make some calls.)

Because the draconian anti-gun laws in Washington DC worked so well.
New York is also pretty damn expensive to live in, and the areas that are more affordable (read: the projects) are still full of criminal thugs.

Right! New York is expensive and so there is still crime in "Them Thar Prawjekts!" At the least that is an offensive statement, at the best ill-considered and thus unclear.

DC is a challenging example for the failure of gun control efforts because Va. (and lax gun control laws) is not more than ten miles away. In NYC the neighboring states also have tighter gun control laws and that has helped (witness Bloomburg griping at Va and points south).

To put it simply we should be able to have guns, we're grown-ups (those of us who are), but it's not unreasonable to (through legislation) ensure that if you have a gun you behave like a grown-up. And if you don't, you don't get to have that right anymore.

Yes, there is a lot of violence in American culture but I'd suggest it is not the bang bang violence that is as damaging as disenfranchisement and alienation.

Is gun control the perfect solution? No. But neither is legalizing pot. Now, meth/heroin legalization? Hmmmm.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:55 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Gun control - Make it harder for a law abiding citizen to gain protection. You think that these thugs go and get a background check and fill out a form and wait the 7-10 day waiting period here in MD? Let me tell you, my background was crystal clear and I had to wait 14 freaking days to get my handgun. Can I live in your world where a violent criminal who has access to the guns already floating around can break in while I defend myself with a pillow or attempt to reason with someone who's intent is to cause panic and fear and bodily harm?

Guys, it's clear. Look at alcohol prohibition. Where are the massive cross country runs of liquor or the crime associated with bootlegging? Well I guess other than an occasional still found in WV, it just went away. Apply that to drugs. It's better than what this country's idiotic policies towards drug control has been for the past few decades!
posted by evilelvis at 6:19 AM on May 18, 2007



But pot isn't meth or cocaine. This is a crucial point that seems to be glossed over. If evilelvis is talking about legalizing all drugs, well that's a different discussio.

And buddy, no one's busting into your house and you're scrambling for your manly 45 that those-librul-pussies-want-to keep-from-you to Blow-Them-Away. That's as sorry a fiction as Bush Jr. being legitimately elected. You need a handgun, really need a handgun, live in a world where you might need a handgun, then you get a gun. But I hope you'd move before subjecting your family to that kind of risk otherwise guns are the least of your problems.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:27 AM on May 18, 2007


"At the least that is an offensive statement, at the best ill-considered and thus unclear."

Except for the fact that it's true, offensive or not. Sometimes the truth isn't pretty.
posted by drstein at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2007


New York is also pretty damn expensive to live in, and the areas that are more affordable (read: the projects) are still full of criminal thugs.

Pfft. Get a clue.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:40 AM on May 18, 2007


live in a world where you might need a handgun

Did you mean, "in a world where I think you might need a handgun"? Because as it is, "you might need a handgun" is much like the classic road sign, "gusty winds may exist" -- true just about everywhere but at the bottom of the ocean and on the moon. That is, unless the governing law of the universe has changed from "might makes right" to "good intentions make right" while I wasn't looking.

And at any rate, a city that's considering martial law due to widespread murder most certainly counts.
posted by vorfeed at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2007



Actually, I meant if you're a criminal initially, but then realized I also meant if you live in a neighborhood with a terrifically high crime rate (I used to - (I had a shotgun, it was illegal. I was in the majority among people I knew), then you do what you have to.

Because my point is not that guns kill people, it's that ducks kill people. Sorry, that was a non-sequitor. It's that people kill people.

We have a right to bear arms. We don't have a right to be stupid about it. Baltimore's problems, on the other hand, I'm just glad they're not mine.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2007


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