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Peacefulness invites mayhem

August 10, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Glad to see the venerable ole Quad State Legislative Conference is still chugging along, and hasn't crumbled under the weight of its own accomplishments.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this annual event because it began 17 years ago, shortly after I joined The Herald-Mail news team. We thought it was huge, lawmakers from four states coming together to discuss mutual concerns.

We had three reporters and two photographers there and devoted something like two full pages of coverage to this important event. We did this twice, maybe three times. Then, based on the amount of "news" that was coming out of the conference, we decided we could scale back a bit and little would be lost if we only sent one reporter and one photographer.

A couple of years later, it became apparent that even more modest coverage would suffice without doing any significant damage to "the public's right to know."

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About 10 years into it, even most of the lawmakers had stopped going, so slow was the action, and basically all we did was run their press releases on an inside page.

But I have to admit, my ears pricked up this time around when I heard they were discussing the influx of "violent gangs" coming in, mostly from suburban Virginia.

Ordinarily, I would think this was a trumped-up charge because lawmakers can be kind of melodramatic sometimes, but I have a cousin-in-law who's a lawman near Winchester and he too was ruminating about gang activity at a recent family gathering. (The gang activity was in Winchester, I mean, not at the family gathering. At least I don't think.)

But gangs? In Virginia?

What are they going to do, hit us with their dogwood?

When I think of gangs, I think of Watts and Los Angeles and the south side of Chicago and New York City and Clear Spring. But never Virginia. I haven't seen any bumper stickers with a heart on them that say "Virginia is for Crips."

But U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf told the gathering that these Virginia gangs were on the move and one of their favorite destinations is West Virginia. Jefferson County, W.Va., Sheriff Ed Boober confirmed this, saying police have found gang symbols drawn onto rural buildings. (In my book, any group whose calling card is symbol-drawing and not sheep-disemboweling makes for a pretty boring and pathetic gang. But maybe that's just me.)

And get this, they like West Virginia because it is "peaceful." They like to hold their meetings here, Boober said.

Well, I'll be.

Does this mean gangs have feelings, too? Like they need to get away from the hustle and bustle and noise and pollution of the cities to plan their territorial killings in some serene, bucolic setting.

"Hang it all, Slasher, I just can't shoot straight with all this commotion going on all around us. Let's go to Shepherdstown. I hear you can get some really good potpourri there."

So we've got the Ku Klux Klan meeting here because it's peaceful and we have violent street gangs meeting here because it's peaceful - maybe it's about time we stopped being so freaking peaceful.

Maybe it's time we raised some cain. Maybe we should just start randomly firing off gunshots around the City of Hagerstown and - what's that? Oh, I hadn't heard. Never mind.

By the way, just what goes on at these gang meetings? Think I could sit in on one? Oh please - I'll bring the pasta salad.

I'm curious about the procedure, is all. For example, do gang meetings have to follow Robert's Rules of Order?

"I'M GONNA KILL YOU!"

"Sorry, but you can't kill anyone while there is a motion on the floor."

"POINT OF ORDER! CAN WE TABLE THE MOTION AND THEN I KILL YOU?"

"Hold on a sec, let me look that up - no, yes - well, you can, but you would need a two-thirds vote, not a simple majority."

"CAN I KILL YOU BY FORCING A FLOOR VOTE?"

"Hmm. I suppose that's possible, but it would be highly unusual. I better consult with our parliamentarian. Hey Crusher, you got a minute?"

Well, maybe other people don't wonder about these things, but I do.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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