Shattered lives

The first thing we must do in the face of rising city gun deaths is be shocked and appalled by them.

The headline over Sunday's report on Baltimore's spike in homicides during the month of July read "45 murders in 31 days." It was a record readers of The Sun were already aware of, but we suspect too many of us viewed it with trepidation but not enough empathy. After so many years of violence, it has become too easy to become inured to murders, too easy to dismiss the victims as statistics at best and bad guys who got what they deserved at worst. But as the accompanying story and photographs of the victims made clear, behind each crime were real people whose violent deaths devastated the families and friends who loved them. That is the reality behind these grim numbers we must not forget.

Statistics can't convey the anguish of shattered lives left in the wake of so many killings. Loved ones struggle to come to terms with the enormity of their loss while neighborhoods wracked by violence try to patch up the gaping holes left in the social fabric. As the death toll mounts, some communities find themselves in a state of perpetual mourning — and fear for who the next victim will be.

Some of the slain, like 53-year-old Jacqueline Parker, were pillars of the community. Ms. Parker, a grandmother and beloved matriarch of her family, was killed July 7 around 10:30 p.m. in a quadruple shooting that left two others dead near the University of Maryland Baltimore campus. She was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.

Lamont Randall, 37, who died in the same shooting, apparently had had his share of challenges in life. Police say he was a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang and may have been targeted for attack by a rival drug gang. Nonetheless, he too was loved by his wife and seven sons. Their lives will forever be marked by his absence.

Similar stories could be repeated about any number of July's victims. Jaswinder Singh, 26, came to America from India four years ago, against the wishes of his parents, and found work at a carryout restaurant on York Road. He was shot to death early on the morning of July 26 while making a delivery. His brother told a newspaper in India the killing has devastated his family. "My father seems lost and my mother is inconsolable," he said.

Another victim, Robert Lee Jackson, 33, was trying to turn his life around after his release from prison five years ago. According to his girlfriend he was building a life with her and their two children and working as a contractor on construction sites. But street life caught up with him in May, when he was indicted on drug distribution charges. Before he could have his day in court, three men gunned him down in broad daylight on July 13. At the time of our news story, his girlfriend had yet to find the words to tell the children their father was dead.

All but three of the victims were black males, which unfortunately is so common that many people have become numb to the personal tragedies their deaths represent. Because the victims lived in depressed, inner-city neighborhoods, the larger community too often writes them off as problems for police, prosecutors and prison officials. Few care that many of them were hapless pawns in the ruthless turf wars of the global drug trade.

Murder rates have been rising in cities across the country, and experts are at a loss to explain why. Washington has seen 105 homicides so far this year, compared to 78 during the same period in 2014, and St. Louis witnessed a 60 percent rise from its 85 murders last year. Meanwhile Baltimore is on track to exceed 300 murders by year's end, a tally not seen since the 1990s.

We do not have an easy solution to offer. But we know that none will come until we as a city recognize a simple truth: These lives matter.

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