Amid surging homicides, Pugh issues 'Call to Action' for Baltimore residents

Facing a surging homicide rate in Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh is calling on everyone in the city to do more.

Pugh on Wednesday announced plans to host a "Call to Action" Saturday to urge more Baltimoreans to get involved — doing such things as mentoring young people or employing ex-offenders — as the city struggles to combat an unprecedented spike in fatal shootings and other crime.

The mayor made the announcement standing beside Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and representatives of the State's Attorney's Office, and also nonprofit leaders and the Nation of Islam.

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 — and violent crime is up 17 percent over last year's historically high rates.

"Our goal is to make sure we have all of our young people engaged," Pugh said, "and that we invite the community to participate in activities to help us reduce crime."

Pugh's "Call to Action," set for 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Baltimore City Community College, will include workshops to help train community members on what they can do to help. Sessions will focus on engaging youth, resolving conflicts, organizing the community and providing counseling that links the behavior of individuals with trauma they've experienced.

The mayor said it would be the first in a series of calls to action throughout the year.

"We want to make sure every child is involved in some activity," Pugh said.

The mayor also said the city would release a Summer Crime Prevention plan soon and create a program to employ what she called the "Squeegee boys" — the Baltimore youths who seeks tips for washing motorists' windshields on city streets.

Pugh said the boys show an entrepreneurial spirit, and the city could help them open their own car wash.

Davis said citizens should expect to see more police in their neighborhoods once the summer begins.

"What Baltimoreans can expect to see this summer?" he asked. "More cops on the street; more police officers on foot. More initiatives taking place throughout the city, where you'll see police officers in uniform helping communities."

The commissioner said his department is focused on "guns, gangs and drugs," but also on hosting summer camps and basketball leagues for young people.

"We've seen far too many examples of late where young people are engaged in violence," Davis said. "We don't want today's young person to become tomorrow's violent repeat offender."

He said he will continue to lobby the General Assembly to make illegal gun possession a felony. He said Washington and New York have such laws.

When a person is caught with an illegal gun in Baltimore, he said, "unfortunately, nothing happens. It's a suspended sentence even when they're found guilty."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said getting more people involved with mediating disputes and helping young people is what the city needs.

"We will get this crime under control," he pledged.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the public safety committee, said he was glad to see the mayor calling on Baltimoreans to do more.

"It's a message that could definitely use the mayor's voice," he said. "However, I still think it's important that the administration work to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat violence. You have to do both things at once."

Farajii Muhammad, a radio show host on Morgan State's WEAA, said he's seen past administrations have community calls to action without much result.

"The violence has to be dealt with on a community-based level," he said. "They can do these type of events, but I hope this is not the only community outreach they do. We've had more than 150 murders in the city and it's just the beginning of June. That mayor has to start bringing some different people to the table."

Andrey Bundley, an educator and former mayoral candidate, is scheduled to present Saturday at the "Call to Action."

"It has to be about massive action to get everyone involved to try to help curb violence in this city," he said.

Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent who was on Pugh's transition team, said many people in Baltimore want to volunteer to help but don't know where to start. They will learn Saturday how they can contribute.

"The key is to actually get to some action," Powers said, "to get past the theories and past the focus groups and get to some action. ... It's not just rhetoric. It's saying, 'Here's where you fit in.'"

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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