Another long road trip.
Thus, another big stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting in my comfy reading chair. It's tough work, but somebody's got to do it.
We will get back to crime reports and Charm City in just a moment, after I try to explain why one crime story -- out of many -- caught my eye during my blitz through the newspapers that collected during my week-long road trip into the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.
You see, this particular article contains absolute zero references to God, religion, faith, worship or prayer -- topics that often show up in Sun reports about murders and violence.
Why is that? Why did I see a GetReligion angle here? A "ghost" even?
You see, it is very common for Godtalk to show up in the language of ordinary people in the aftermath of crimes in the most troubled neighborhoods in our city. They pray for peace in the city. They crowd into churches for funerals in which ministers talk about sin and guilt and redemption and hope. Reporters, every now and then, quote these voices.
This makes sense. In fact, I often tell my students that I have rarely interviewed a minister who was not worth quoting, when dealing with "big issue" stories. Ministers have a way with words and know how to spot the human, symbolic details in the stories that surround them. Ministers are used to describing the big picture.
This brings me to the recent Sun report about a decision by Baltimore Housing officials to raze, after four years of talk, the infamous Madison Park North apartment complex -- which locals have given a hellish nickname because of its reputation for drug deals and violence.
The subsidized complex -- dubbed by residents and even city officials as "Murder Mall" -- has been the site of drug sales, stabbings and shootings in the years since its construction in the early 1970s. The marquee at the entrance to the complex hails a "unique residential and business community," and storefronts are on the ground level of several apartment buildings. But these days, most are shuttered.
While some nearby Baltimore neighborhoods such as Bolton Hill have seen a rebirth, Reservoir Hill continues to struggle. And to Councilman Nick Mosby, who lives across the street from the complex, the demolition of the 44 buildings on the sprawling 8-acre complex is a relief.
"It's critically important for people to feel safe when they rest their head at night," Mosby said. "Because of terrible mismanagement over decades, the folks of Madison Park North have not had the opportunity to experience that on a nightly basis."
Like I said, there is no religion angle reported in this lengthy news feature. This struck me as interesting since one of the primary challenges the Sun team faced in this effort was describing precisely "why" -- as in "who, what, when, where, why and how" -- this corner of the city is so haunted.
Also, the story included many quotations from residents who are glad to have a chance to move away from this troubled location, yet are struggling to find some sense of hope, some reason to believe that there is hope for change in a new location.
I kept wondering: Are there any churches near the Reservoir Hill section of Baltimore?
As it turns out, there are.
Now, if this story had included a funeral or two, the ministers in these churches -- men and women who, without a doubt, know all about life in the "Murder Mall" -- would have had a chance to talk to reporters.
Funerals equal religion, you know. Ordinary stories about life, death, evil and hope? Not so much.
So who did these journalists turn to for the big picture in this emotional story?
Mike Molla, vice president of operations for Maryland Institute College of Art, said clearing the site and relocating the residents presents an opportunity for redevelopment in a key section of the city. Many of MICA's students and faculty live in Reservoir Hill, drawn to the affordable houses with large floor plans.
"It's a gateway between a number of anchor institutions," he said of Madison Park North site. "It's quite exciting to think about what it can become.
"This a large property that represents a symbol of change."
Yes, there is a real-estate angle to this story. That's one valid point of view.
However, in this case I would have called the ministers anyway, even though there wasn't a SPECIFIC funeral referenced in the piece.