Baltimore Press

The Usual Rumors Send Baltimore Scrambling

Rumor control is part of the job. Sometimes, it’s a report of pit bull fights. Sometimes, it’s a potential mayoral candidate who votes in the city, but lives in the county. Sometimes, it’s just garbage.

There was a riot in Fells Point a week ago Saturday night, and a bomb in a Locust Point School the following Monday morning, or so the sources thought. As the killings at Columbine High School filter into Baltimore’s consciousness, rumors of bombs and violence, perpetuated by young males—especially of the white middle-class sort—just might be on the rise.

In the haven for reckless colle­giate drinking, better known as Fells Point, reports came in that seventeen young men had been arrested for violent acts on the 700 block of Broadway. On Sunday, bartenders and restauranteers in the area knew nothing of the incident, even those to whom the rumors had been traced. According to the Baltimore Police, one unidentified male was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital at 1:50 AM Sunday, where he was treated and released. He refused to give the police information on his assailants.

Two eyewitnesses corroborated the police’s testimony but added pertinent detail. Apparently, three men had seriously injured the man, and a woman, apparently his girl­friend, was beaten when she tried to defend him. The witnesses added that the police did not attempt to arrest the assailants.

A call into Southern District for the scoop on the bomb lasted a half­hour, only five of which was talking. The shift commander could not be found (he had not arrived to work yet), but eventually the district com­mander, Lt. Baumgarten, was found. He had no knowledge of the bomb threat, but it might have existed. The police only deal with real bombs, he said, the school police take care of the threats.

There was neither bomb nor threat at School 76 in Locust Point. School Principal Paul Llufrio pointed to the “mass hysteria” engulfing the city. He pointed out a unexplained drop in school attendance since the Columbine killings, and that dozens of bomb rumors were percolating throughout the school system.

An Upper Fells Point resident, well versed in police work, noted that the Bomb Squad had been dis­patched at about 5 am Monday morning, however, no information from the police was available because the reporter did not know the exact location of the potential bomb.

Nothing out of the usual actually happened—drunken violence is the norm at closing time in Fell’s Point—but one wouldn’t have guessed that by the response of the Baltimore Police Department.

The Police Department’s Office of Media Relations would neither com­ment, nor connect the reporter with anyone who might. Only after sever­al calls into the Commissioner’s, and then a Colonel’s, office did any information become available and then sparingly. It took twenty-three phone calls and six hours just to ver­ify that a riot did not take place. This does not include the several hours another journalist had taken on Sunday to try to get the straight dope, to no avail.

“You’re calling all the right peo­ple” one executive secretary said. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
What they were not saying was that a bomb threat to Police Headquarters and a crash of the 911 system on Monday morning threw the entire Police Department into a abyss they have yet to crawl out of.

A final call was placed on Tuesday, to find the name of the beating victim. No records of such an event ever occured, even though they verified its existence on Monday. It just disappeared, along with god knows what else. The offi­cer gave me a number to call. It was a fax line. This was not some nefari­ous cover-up, just pure incompe­tence: I am not sure which is worse.

If the press cannot get public information, either in a timely man­ner or at all, everyone suffers. The police hierarchy cannot continue to perform behind this veil of incompe­tence. What happens this summer, when many police officers are scheduled to retire? Too many good cops are getting their reputation tar­nished by their superiors’ incompe­tence, and far too many citizens are getting lost in the crossfire.

Leave a Comment