The Crime Exchange: 'We're just fighting a failed drug war'

Our crime reporter's job swap with his counterpart from the 'Baltimore Sun' has provoked a passionate debate on both sides of the Atlantic

Five days into
The Independent's crime exchange with The Baltimore Sun and the series has elicited a remarkable response from readers of both papers. Here we publish a selection – of both good and bad.

Mark, welcome to our city. It is a place of many wonderful people and beautiful things. We're just fighting a failed drug war. Don't mind us. Write what you experience.

Posted by: baltimorelady

The plain fact is that London is reasonably (and no more than reasonably) successful at containing crime. Baltimore isn't. Hundreds of Baltimoreans die violently every year. Many thousands more are dissuaded from living or working in the city, permanently depressing its economy. This is a tragedy and a failure.False equivalence, and talk about crab cakes and neighbourhood restaurants, can't mask it.

Posted by: pasal2

1. Baltimore and The Wire

I live in Baltimore county and have lived in and around the city of Baltimore for 33 years. Like any city, there are dangerous areas and challenges. But The Wire brought with it a horrible stigma, upon which people base their sole impression and understanding of this city.

Posted by: Mike

I am a native of Baltimore. It's amazing how many people think the entire city of Baltimore is like The Wire. Yes, there are parts that resemble the neighbourhoods on that show, but there are also neighbourhoods that could grace a magazine cover. Then recently I returned to the city and I was shocked by West Baltimore especially... it looks like a bomb was dropped on it.

Posted by: James

2. Crime in the UK

Justin Fenton has visited Brixton, London, and Moss Side, Manchester, during his trip to the UK. He found that the areas' crime problems shared little in common with Baltimore.

This series has been a joy to read. I keep thinking about the tidy streets of Manchester while in the midst of a crime wave. Why can't we at least do this – tidy streets? I do not suggest this in jest. Crime destroys lives; dirty, trash-filled streets destroy a sense of hope in the future."

Posted by: Patricia

If you want to see gang and gun crime, go to Liverpool. There is a gang war going on between Croxteth and Norris Green.

Posted by: Colin Jones

To be honest, it's not too bad over here. The main problem is knife crime in London, gang on gang, but in comparison, it's not in the same murder league as the US, thanks to stringent gun laws, I guess.

Posted by: James H

The elephant in Britain's living room is the bad social housing. Bad management of properties means that instead of landlords sorting out the problems, the police are often dragged in to solve problems that are not part of their remit.

Barb, via email

Crime is rising, but people seem to have lost all sense of proportion.

Serry, via email

3. Community in Baltimore

Mark wrote an article describing what the communities of Baltimore are doing to try to alleviate crime. He found many good organisations, but was told of apathy in some communities.

One of the reasons for the apathy you correctly describe is that people get tired of being ignored or treated like dirt when they call the police. When police consistently refuse to take reports or file charges, you give up. Eventually, I decided to take the time and energy I spent on trying to improve Baltimore, and divert it towards leaving Baltimore. I was born in Baltimore and love the city, but at a certain point it just becomes too much to handle.

Posted by: baltimoron

I have decided that the decision to buy in Mount Clare [west Baltimore] was a huge mistake in my life. I have lived in Mount Clare for two years and things have gotten a little better than when I moved but not good enough. I am convinced there are some people that just don't want to see improvement.

Posted by: Allen

4. Reporting restrictions

Justin wrote an article explaining the differences between the UK and the US in what can be reported during a criminal investigation and when.

From your analysis, it seems like there's so much waiting involved to ever really get any word out until the case is all wrapped up and in the past. Here in the US, the court system is willing to protect free press rights and bend their backs to find 12 impartial people to sit in a jury while we report on whatever we can get our hands on.

Posted by: Daniel Gross

5. Drugs

Mark looked at drugs; how they are the cause of much of Baltimore's crime and what is being done to help addicts.

It's clear our drug laws and treatment options do not work. I wish we would stop being so pig-headed and take a more progressive approach. Our drug laws put addicts in jail and never properly address the issue of addiction. Treatment programmes are often out of reach for many addicts and expensive. Baltimore's other problem is poverty. Many young people turn to a life of crime since the money earned selling drugs is thought to be more lucrative than an "honest" job. Sadly, most pay a high price for it with their lives."

Posted by: Amelia

It's too bad that we won't ever adopt the European drug management style. Treat it like a medical problem and stop filling our jails.

Posted by: Jake

The British are struggling with their drug policy as well. You can't lock everyone up. You have to take the profit out of drugs [through] legalisation or decriminalisation. You don't see people selling beer on the black market. You don't see people shooting each other for a bottle of wine or whisky."

Posted by: eureka

6. The mayor

While in Baltimore, Mark tried, and failed, to talk to the Mayor, Sheila Dixon, about crime in her city. (She is about to go on trial for corruption.) He was refused an interview and rejected when he asked to speak with her at a public event.

It is unfortunate that our Mayor and Commissioner were not "available" to speak with you during this visit. Nonetheless, I am sure you witnessed sufficient evidence that our city is fighting a drug war and failing miserably. Speaking to the top cop and Dixon wasn't necessary; you got the real deal from the people on the street – our residents, on both sides of the law, and the police that protect us and enforce the present laws.

Posted by: Suze

I and probably everyone else in town extend our apologies for the 'mayor'. She leaves much to be desired in many areas, including graciousness and diplomacy.

Posted by: meekrat

Mark, grow a pair and learn to get in the face of public officials. Just because the Mayor's spokesman didn't come through for you, and the mayor was being her usual oblivious self doesn't mean you can't go up and ask her something. If you were near enough to hear what she said to her flack [spokesman], weren't you also near enough to throw a question or two at her? I mean, this is the mayor of Baltimore, not some murderous dictator who'll have you carted away for insolence.

Posted by: Harvey Duncan

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