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City Council says city's safe, deadly

August 01, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

Hagerstown is rife with violence, thuggery, murderers, rapists, thieves, swindlers, villains, kidnappers, mobsters and, probably, displaced Pirates of the Caribbean.

Either that or it's the safest place on the face of the earth, take your pick.

Now I can understand when two different groups take two different sides of an issue and engage in an honest debate. But here, the two wildly disparate views on the Hagerstown crime scene are coming out of the same mouth: Hagerstown City Council.

Last week at the council meeting, talk turned to crime following a shooting at a city housing complex. According to The Herald-Mail, "Councilwoman Kelly Cromer said she didn't want to preach about crime because it might lead to bad publicity. She encouraged a reporter to 'be kind' because the city is trying to attract new residents."

Fair enough.

But her comments might be misdirected. Instead of saying that to a reporter, she should be telling her own council, which for more than a year now has been bellowing about all this runaway gang activity that has elderly ladies scared to leave their homes, residents afraid to walk the streets for fear of being multiply murdered and drivers afraid to flash their high beams for fear of being initiation-raped.

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It is the council that says we need more police to deal with all this crime. The council is scared to death. If you walk up behind council members and say "boo" after dark, they will probably land atop the Alexander House.

So why are they telling reporters not to make a big deal out of crime?

"GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS!"

"Oh, what's that? No, Hagerstown doesn't have any crime. Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Now where were we? Oh yes, GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS! GANGS!"

Jeepers. I think the City Council is one of those situations you often hear about where the whole is crazier than the sum of its parts.

There is no gang problem in Hagerstown, of course. Mention gangs to a Hagerstown beat cop and he will just shake his head.

Yet the city is going around distributing something like a five-page fact sheet on gangs, complete with "warning signs" of gang activity, such as the color red. So Peter Paul Rubens was a member of MS-13, there's no question about it.

And a memo to any "new resident" moving into the city: No, Hagerstown doesn't have that much of a crime problem. Probably no more, no less than most other cities its size.

It might come to your attention, however, that while Hagerstown does not have a crime problem, it does have a weirdo problem. But they're harmless, and to my mind, kind of entertaining.

And there are some nice people, too. On Wednesday, there was a guy walking around downtown handing out cucumbers. He wasn't charging, just giving them away. Came up and said, "Want a cucumber?" I doubt you would get than sort of kindness on the streets of New York.

And you get personal attention, too. Two weeks ago, a reporter from a major British newspaper came to town and was told by the visitors center that I might be a good person to talk to to get the feel of the city. Funny, I would have thought the visitors center would have done everything in its power to keep me from giving him my opinion of the city.

But no matter, we were sitting in Public Square and to my credit, I was putting up what I considered to be a pretty fair defense of Hagerstown.

Right in the middle of peddling Hagers-town's virtues, a gentleman ambled up and announced that he was "dehydrated" and asked if he could have a dollar for some "coffee."

It was pretty apparent that the man was not going to leave until he had been compensated for his services, so I gave him a buck. And to his credit, he took the money and made it a full 20 paces before he pitched foreword in a full-gainer onto the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, I'd just kept on talking about our fair city, but I had lost the attention of my guest, who was coolly appraising the getaway of our visitor, and the fact that he had not made an overpowering success of it. Finally he broke me off.

"You didn't find anything curious about that?"

"Well, you know, Hagerstown coffee can have that effect on a person if he's not used to it."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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