For minutes on end New Year's Eve night, the names and ages of 216 men, women and children who were killed in Baltimore in 2012 were read out loud on the steps of the city's War Memorial — a somber recap of a violent year in which homicides rose.
"In a city where so many people are immune to these senseless crimes, it is imperative that we remember the victims," said Victoria Kent, a member of the Baltimore Guardian Angels community watch group, as about 50 others stood by.
The vigil, in its fourth year, was attended by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, council members Brandon Scott and Carl Stokes, members of the clergy and various city activists.
Many among the crowd spoke to the need for communities to come together and provide those involved in the cycle of violence — many of them young men, many African-American — better outlets.
"Too many people in our city have lost respect for human life, and too many of us have stood by and watched," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have to have that voice and say that we deserve, that every child and family in the city deserves, more."
Batts noted not all those killed in the city this year were "on the right side of the law," but one human life lost is one too many, he said. Batts said police will work diligently in 2013 to earn community members' respect, and asked that community members in turn "join hands" with police to put an end to the violence.
As he spoke, candles outlined the number 216 on the memorial steps. Last year's homicide count was 197, and organizers of the event, including Michael Williams, said the uptick was at once disheartening and motivating.
Williams first held the event in 2009, the year his brother Mario was killed and Williams was paroled from prison after being incarcerated for 18 years on drug charges. He now works to stem the tide of violence involving and against young African-American men, he said.
"The murder of one another must stop," he said. "It must stop, and we must break it up."
Williams and other speakers asked those in attendance — many of whom are already involved in combating city violence — to put their heads together to come up with a new strategy for reaching young men.
"A lot of our young want to do right, but they don't have the necessary tools to do right," said Gardnel Carter of the Safe Streets East Initiative. "We haven't taught them the principles and morals for when they encounter conflicts, to know how to resolve them."
Many young people in Baltimore witness terrible violence from a young age, and are in inner turmoil when they turn to violence themselves, Carter said.
Rob Hoffman, a nurse on Johns Hopkins Hospital's trauma floor, said he is "haunted by images of young men" who were killed this year.
Hoffman told a story of a young male patient who came in after being shot in the head, and who recovered. A couple of months later, the young man was shot in the head again and, miraculously, recovered once more. Hoffman said he offered the young man a bus ticket to anywhere in the country, to get him away from the streets where he was getting into trouble.
"He responded that this was the only way of life he knew," Hoffman said. Several months later, Hoffman found out the young man had returned to the hospital once more — this time dead on arrival. He should have had somewhere else to turn, Hoffman said.
"If we each do a little bit, we can break the cycle," he said.
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