On any given day, there are roughly 300,000 people moving about in downtown Baltimore. They go to work, dine in restaurants, visit Harborplace, meet friends and lovers, romp through parks, visit museums, take in a ballgame – but none of these people, at least for the moment, will be schoolchildren on organized class trips from Carroll County.
Public school officials there have halted all trips to Baltimore, citing “escalating violence” in the city. The move followed a recommendation from County Sheriff James T. DeWees, who said he was responding to parental concerns.
Those concerns are obvious. The people who run the city of Baltimore, and those who police it, and those who sit in courtrooms and mete out punishment, seem utterly incapable of stopping the city’s street violence, which results this year in more than 300 people getting murdered.
So let’s grant Carroll County people their concern – and now let’s tell them why they’re overreacting.
We do not have a single city of Baltimore, any more than we have a single city of New York or Philadelphia – or, for that matter, a single Westminster.
We are collections of communities, some thriving, some not, some dangerous, many not. Schoolchildren are not going on any walking tours of neighborhoods from “The Wire.” They’re going to the Maryland Science Center or the National Aquarium. They’re going to the Baltimore Museum of Art or Fort McHenry.
Or maybe they’re taking part in organized activities, such as the kids from Francis Scott Key High School, in Carroll County, whose marching band was scheduled to take part in the Christmas parade in Hampden.
That’s now been cancelled.
Yes, in Hampden, an area of Baltimore once written off as low-rent, unappealing, scruffy – and now regarded as a hip residential, shopping and dining-out area where people routinely gather late into the night.
The kids from Carroll County should see such a neighborhood. In a heartbeat, they’d want to move in.
They should see the Maryland Science Center, too. But they won’t. A class trip for third graders from Westminster Elementary School has now been cancelled.
The kids from Carroll County should see such a place. The science center’s not only educational – it’s fun, it’s the future, it’ll inspire them.
Except that they won’t see it.
For all their good intentions, Carroll County officials have done a couple of unfortunate things. They’ve stigmatized an entire city. They’ve implicitly validated all those skittish souls who routinely stay out of the city because they think the crime is everywhere.
And they’ve told their children to be afraid. Be afraid of leaving the smallness of your own community. Be afraid of the unknown. Be afraid of the most important city in the entire metro area.
Tell that to the 300,000 who move about in downtown Baltimore every day. They’re out there in the sunlight. They’re doing business, meeting friends, living their lives to the fullest.
And they’d look at these kids from Carroll County, and they’d welcome them with open arms and open hearts.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Also see: All Hail the ‘Hon Man’
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