Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Editorial
News Opinion Editorial

Baltimore's rising death toll

The spike in gun violence over the weekend that saw eight people killed, including two women, and 12 others wounded is a reminder that despite the progress Baltimore has made in recent years, crime in the city remains unacceptably high. Whether the problem stems from staffing problems in the police department that have forced cops to pull double shifts, an increase in gang violence associated with the drug trade, flaws in the city's crime-fighting strategy, hot weather or some other factor, this is the second year in a row the city has been losing ground against violent offenders. City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake need to make reversing that trend their top priority. But to do that they need to convey a sense that this is something different than business as usual.

Since the beginning of the year, 110 people have been killed in violent incidents, and another 173 were victims of non-fatal shootings. That's about 10 more people in each category than at this point last year, and last year's total represented a nearly 10 percent increase over the year before, when the city recorded fewer than 200 homicides for the first time since the 1970s. While no one can say precisely what is causing the current uptick in homicides and shootings, it's clear that if continued it threatens to undermine every other effort by officials to grow the city's population by attracting new residents and businesses. Simply put, if people don't feel safe, they won't want to live here.

A police spokesman's remark over the weekend that "we're pretty satisfied with the way the city is headed, violence-wise" didn't help. Nor did the fact that neither the mayor nor the commissioner responded to requests for comment until today.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake, who has been out of town for the National Conference of Mayors convention in Las Vegas, issued a statement today promising "to do everything we can to reduce violence and make our neighborhoods safer." And at a news conference, Commissioner Batts tried to reassure the public by characterizing the weekend's spike in homicides as essentially a statistical blip in an otherwise encouraging picture in which police have the situation well under control. He said the department was working hard to find out what was behind the most recent spate of violence and pledged to do whatever was necessary to make sure it remained an unfortunate but isolated series of incidents rather than the new normal. In general, he said, overall crime was down and the department was making strides toward maintaining its progress in reducing the number of homicides over the last decade.

It's certainly true that conditions are better than they were during the 300-murder-a-year days of the 1990s. But we also can't wait until we get back to those horrific conditions before we sound the alarm. The "spike" in murders Mr. Batts spoke of didn't begin just this weekend; homicides have been trending upward for the last year. The events of this weekend may be the most startling evidence of it, but five of the first six months of this year have seen homicide totals higher than they were in 2012, and the last half of 2012 was deadlier than the same period in 2011. For better or worse, that's what shapes public perception of Baltimore as a place to live and work, and contrary to what Mr. Batts suggests, right now things don't look as if the city is making progress, and they don't look at all as if the situation is under control.

It would be unfair, of course, to say Mr. Batts is at fault for this weekend's violence. The reasons homicides periodically rise and fall stem from a complex interaction of many factors, only some of which are predictable or subject to police intervention. We don't know why it appears to be happening in Baltimore at this time, after so many years of declining murder rates.

But we can judge the commissioner and the mayor on their reactions to these events. The concrete steps the police are taking — increased patrols, investigations to determine whether the incidents are connected — are well and good. But we also need leaders who will channel our moral outrage against violence, and bland assurances that we maintain our commitment to "target repeat violent offenders, gangs and illegal guns," as Ms. Rawlings-Blake said in her statement, don't do the trick. The less shocked we are at bloody weekends like this one, the more we risk them becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Metrics of Baltimore's distress

    Metrics of Baltimore's distress

    Reading your paper lately has become quite depressing. Perhaps you could start publishing a front-page table showing the number of people shot to death each day, plus the number of heroin overdose deaths and the number of infants delivered in the city's hospitals.

  • Mayor has emboldened criminals

    Mayor has emboldened criminals

    Everyone is wondering why the increase in crime in Charm City since the riots ("Monday shooting victim is Baltimore's 36th May homicide," May 27). The reason for the violence is quite simple. It can be directly attributed to the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's indecision in a time of crisis. It...

  • Baltimore police have been handcuffed

    Baltimore police have been handcuffed

    The astronomical increase in shootings and homicides in Baltimore is easy to explain. The criminal element is now in charge — no more police to hassle them and take their guns. They feel protected by the powers that be, and they are. They are shooting and killing each other because they are angry?...

  • Why aren't black leaders talking about personal responsibility?

    Why aren't black leaders talking about personal responsibility?

    Nothing will change until that happens.

  • Do black lives matter in Baltimore?

    Do black lives matter in Baltimore?

    "Black lives matter!" was the chant heard at recent demonstrations in cities and towns from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore. Yes, they do matter, but apparently not so much to some other blacks. Only when a white police officer shoots or engages in other behavior that results in the death of a black...

  • Baltimore is reeling

    Baltimore is reeling

    Baltimore is on its knees. It is probably the only major American city where the prisoners ran the detention facility with the full cooperation of jail employees.

  • Decriminalize drugs and crime will drop

    Decriminalize drugs and crime will drop

    Officers deployed in a futile effort to clear corners of drug traffickers, officers tied up in court, court dockets bloated, jails overcrowded, discouraging recidivism — here we go again ("Baltimore prosecutor asked police to target area where Freddie Gray was arrested," June 9).

  • How to reduce gun violence

    How to reduce gun violence

    At a time when Baltimore could desperately use some good news when it comes to the prospects of reducing violence, research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests we may already have taken a key step toward preventing gun homicides — it just may take a few years for us...

Comments
Loading
90°