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by Peter Moskos

March 8, 2014

Lexington Market

Last week I mentioned "the army of junkies outside Lexington Market." My tender New York eyes were a bit shocked by 20 people shouting and 20 other people nodding in what I call the "junkie lean." You can't expect decent people or caring parents with children to walk a gauntlet of junkies to go shopping. They won't do it. Nor should they have to. Scott Calvert writes about the efforts to deal with this in the Sun:
A man staggering around zombie-like, eyes slowly closing and opening. He came to rest against Konstant's outdoor peanut counter, next to the market entrance.

Gerald Butler, one of about two dozen unarmed market police officers, approached. "You need to keep it moving, sir," he said.

"I'm not trying to do anything, to be smart," murmured the man.

Canty walked up and asked if he needed recovery treatment.

"I'm already on the program," the man replied. He told Canty that he's on methadone and had also taken other medication that day. Canty warned that he could be banned from the market for his behavior. "They see you nodding, they're going to bar you."

"I will keep it under control," the man promised. "I will leave. Thank you very much."

Canty handed him a referral card just as the man's eyes fluttered shut. A moment later he was headed north on Eutaw, swaying as if buffeted by a strong wind.
"We don't see much violent crime around Lexington Market," he said, "but the environment that's conducive to the sale of prescription drugs is not conducive to drawing tourists to the market on a daily basis.
I'll say!

Two weeks ago, after getting a crabcake with a friend, I too was leaning on Konstant's outdoor peanut counter looking at the wares. A few feet away were dozens of junkies doing their slow junkie dance. Meanwhile right next to me and my friend was an overly made-up white woman in a full-length fur coat. On a weekday afternoon, she and I were perhaps the only two white customers in the market. She was sampling a peanut, seemingly oblivious to the chaos swaying around her. I asked her if the peanuts were good. In a slow southern drawl she said, "These are excellent, darling. And I know because I used to grow peanuts." Only in Baltimore, hon! I bought two bags. They are excellent.

We can disaggregate the problems outside Lexington market (inside things tend to be OK) into four issues:

1) quality of life for customers
2) economic survival of the Lexington Market (and Baltimore)
3) crime
4) public health of the addicts

So while a holistic approach would be best, I have no objection to simply pushing the junkies somewhere else. I'm a police guy, so I'll leave public health to others (alas, there is no silver-bullet solution to heroin addiction), but the market entrance is too important. It is not right (or economically viable) that a few dozen people damage the market and the city.

Law enforcement efforts (and the threat of arrest) combined with social services can work. Port Authority was cleaned up in 1990s. It's worth looking at how they did so. But one big difference is that the main problem of Port Authority was people living inside the bus station while the biggest problems of Lexington Market are addicts outside the market.

The Sun article also quotes an architect who...
thinks focusing too much on the scene around the market is "misguided." He said it makes him feel uncomfortable, and no safer, to see police handcuffing someone sprawled on the sidewalk.

If the market can attract a broader range of customers, he said, "that will thin out the impression one currently has that mostly they're very poor people."

Philipsen says there's also a racial dimension that "nobody wants to talk about." Most market patrons are black, including those living in parts of West Baltimore without a supermarket nearby. Ideally, he said, the market would appeal across socioeconomic, racial and geographic lines.

"If you're white and want to see more white people, we can get them there by making this more attractive," Philipsen said. "It's not about subtracting people or making poor African-American folks not go there, but bringing some additional people so everybody feels comfortable."
Well I mentioned the racial dimension, and I also don't think we need to focus on the tender comfort of white folk who "want to see more white people." The solution to the problems of Lexington Market is not a few more white people. White people are not the solution. Besides, (to paraphrase Yogi) if white people don't want to come to the market how are you going to stop them?

[Best pickup line I heard outside the market, to a woman passing by: "Yo, baby, I got a job!" That was it. Alas, it didn't seem to work.]

I'm bothered by the architect's comments because they seems to equate race and poverty with drug addiction and the shitty public behavior that makes decent people of all colors and income afraid. This isn't about race or poverty (or even, to some extent, drug addiction) but about bad (and illegal) behavior.

Most of the shoppers at the market may be poor and they may be black, but they're inherent "decent" -- to invoke Elijah Anderson's concept. The problem is not the demographics of the customers, but the two or three dozen (decidedly non-"decent") junkies shouting, nodding-off, and buying, selling, and using illegal drugs. That's it! It's their behavior that needs to change (or move elsewhere), not their race or socioeconomic status. If people could get in the market without being hassled and made to be fearful, you'd see more "decent" people -- of all races (and yes, that would include white people, I suppose).

And then there's this: "The market's image took a hit in 2009 when the owner of the Utz Potato Chip stall was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to selling illegal guns from his stand." Oh yeah. That. And for the record that malaka was neither poor not black.


mit said...

Hi Sir,
do you the link for the article you are quotig in this post ?
thanks in advance.

Peter Moskos said...

It's in the post. Here it is:

Carey Smith said...