Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake led a public safety walk Monday night through the McElderry Park neighborhood, trailed by residents, community leaders and activists chanting slogans of peace.
Last month, 18-year-old Donyae Jones was killed in a shooting that wounded four others several blocks from where the public safety walk took place Monday. The walk was the first such event for Rawlings-Blake after about 40 people were shot and 16 were killed in 10 days as summer began. The quintuple shooting in the 700 block of North Kenwood Avenue was one of those shootings.
"You're in the trenches all day every day, you know that I cannot do it without you," Rawlings-Blake told the crowd after they looped about four blocks and returned to the neighborhood's community resource center on North Montford Avenue. "I could put a police officer on every corner," though it would not be enough without the community's help, she said.
The walk was organized by members of Safe Streets, the city-sponsored organization of "violence interrupters" that work in the community to prevent shootings and other disputes. Passing through streets filled with families and dotted by vacant houses, community leaders waved at residents and strategized ways to help the East Baltimore neighborhood.
"We don't expect shootings in this neighborhood every day," said Gardnel Carter, head of the Safe Streets group that works in East Baltimore. "It's not normal for us. It's not acceptable."
Still, East Baltimore through the Monument Street corridor has struggled with gangs and drug organizations, including on Kenwood Avenue, where Police Commissioner Anthony Batts has said various gangs are battling for territory. Batts walked through the same area a few days after the quintuple shooting.
City Councilman Warren Branch, who as head of the council's public safety committee was critical of Batts at a hearing last week, softened his tone toward the Police Department after Monday's walk. Branch, who lives about a block from the shooting on Kenwood Avenue, said he was not aware of the extent of the gang activity in his area until recently and said Batts has been better than some previous police commissioners about providing information to his office.
"He's the first commissioner since I've been here that has been upfront and said, 'We have gangs down here,'" Branch said. He also said it was important that community leaders and groups assist the department.
"We can't just put the Police Department out there and say, 'Fix it,'" he said.
Glenn Ross, longtime head of the McElderry Park neighborhood association, said the area has made strides in recent years, bringing back Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate vacant houses, for example, and kicking out a couple of drug gangs.
"It let people know that they're not out here by themselves," Ross said of the safety walk.
David Tyler-El, another Safe Streets worker on the east side, lamented that his group could not prevent every act of violence. He said perhaps the city could use a public safety television advertising campaign.
"We need about 10 Supermans to run around the city," he joked.
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