'We can't solve it by ourselves,' mayor says of crime problem at 'Call to Action' event

As a crowd formed to hear the mayor, a 15-year-old boy boldly approached City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young in the audience and made a request.

"He walked up to the council president and said, 'I want a summer job,'" said Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. "I learned later he wants to work with the Fire Department, so I'm going to talk with Chief [Niles] Ford, and I'm confident he will find a way. I said, 'You're going to have a summer job.'"

Finding opportunities for youths was among the headlining topics Saturday at "Call to Action," a half-dozen workshops initiated by Mayor Catherine Pugh to enlist broad community support for combattng an unprecedented spike in fatal shootings and other crime.

"We recognize that we have a problem, but we can't solve it by ourselves," Pugh said in a speech opening the sessions, attended by several hundred people at Baltimore City Community College.

More than 150 people have been killed in Baltimore this year — the city finished May with the most homicides ever in the first five months.

Saturday's event, which the mayor said would be the first in a series this year, was attended by City Council members, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and a number of officials from the Police Department and mayor's office. But it also attracted social workers, educators, mediators and others seeking new solutions to the lingering challenge of crime.

They crowded into classrooms to lead seminars on engaging youths, resolving conflicts, accessing community grants and other topics.

In one classroom, Rick Leandry, who runs public housing youth programs, began a session on conflict resolution by shaking hands or hugging each of the two dozen attendeees seated in a small circle.

He said it was an exercise in breaking down barriers.

"We've got to get over the fear, that's the first thing," Leandry told the group.

Leandry and Kelly Fox, who also attended the seminar, are leaders of Men Empowering Neighborhoods, a volunteer organization they co-founded last year.

"There is so much crime in the neighborhoods, and we had to do something," Fox said in an interview. "I'm a banker by trade, and we've got social workers, we've got therapists, people who work for the city. We walk the streets with these T-shirts on, letting people know that 'We're here to help and what do you need? Do you need a neighborhood cleanup or addictions counseling, or mediation if there is a gang situation?' We want to bring Baltimore City back together."

The black T-shirts depict a drawing of a cityscape and men raising their hands as if volunteering.

Violent crime in the city is up17 percent over last year's historically high rates.

The mayor said residents this summer will see more police officers on foot patrols "helping communities."

But Pugh also said: "It's not about having police on every corner in our community. This is about collaboration."

She said she planned to create a program to employ what she called the "squeegee boys" — the Baltimore youths who seeks tips for washing motorists' windshields on city streets.

"They want to be organized. They want to work," Pugh said. "And so we're looking at how do we create these entrepreneurs that keep going in a positive path as opposed to a negative path. As you all know, drug dealers are recruiting as early as 8-year-olds," she said.

Outside the classrooms, leaders of various organizations — such as mentoring programs, the Urban League and the city's employment program — sat at desks promoting their services and answering questions.

Looming over the sessions was the soaring homicide rate.

"We are making history for all the wrong reasons," said City Council member Leon F. Pinkett III. Encouraging community participation, Pinkett said: "I think people forget that law enforcement is only one part of public safety."

Fox called the homicide figures "devastating."

"One of things we've always talked about is we can't rely on the mayor, we can't rely on the Police Department. We've got to get out there and roll up our sleeves and be partners."

Many kids, Fox said, "don't have people they can relate to in power, people that they trust. We've got people from former drug dealers to licensed social workers. We feel like we can make that connection without intimidating."

Leandry said it's important to be cognizant of the homicide rate without being fixated on it.

For all of the homicides, he said, there are hundreds of thousands of people "who went to work, who went to school, who went to church. That's the number that I focus on."

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