If you don’t have to be on constant alert the way soldiers are as they tread through danger zones, mindful that bullets could come from any direction, then Baltimore can be a lovely city. But for too many Baltimoreans this city might as well be Aleppo in Syria or Kabul in Afghanistan or Mosul in Iraq.
No one with street cred has emerged to stand atop a car— like the infamous Little Willie Adams supposedly did during the 1968 riots — and demand that the mayhem end. No children’s crusades. No hundreds or even dozens of men uniting to take back the streets.
Some people blame the mayor. The City Council president blames the police union. Older folks blame bestial youth. The anti-gun element blames the National Rifle Association. And so on and so on and so on as the race to break the homicide record proceeds unabated. I wish I did not know where to find the daily death toll so easily, but I do — like I know where to find yard-sale bargains on Facebook.
As of Sunday at 5:45 p.m., 166 homicides had been recorded for the year. Let that sink in.
You know you have hit some level of acceptance when the death of a 37-year-old mother of eight — gunned down by a cold-blooded killer after she had the audacity to talk to the police about someone bullying one of her children — is little more than a one-day news story. Charmaine Wilson was her name. Her funeral last Thursday was little noted beyond her circle of family and friends and people like Daphne Alston. Ms. Alston founded a sisterhood of mothers, now called Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, after her son Tarik was murdered July 14, 2008.
When she heard what had happened to Charmaine Wilson on Gertrude Street the night of June 12, Ms. Alston said, “I was so mad, so angry. It almost felt worse than when I got the news that my son got killed because that was a sign of disrespect for all mothers who want to help their kids. We don’t want anybody to bother our children, and a mother used to be able to go out there and say that — “Leave my child alone” — and settle the situation and go back in her house and go on with her life, never thinking that someone was going to come back and gun her down.”
That is what happened to Charmaine Wilson. For standing up for her children, for cooperating with the police, she was gunned down by a neighborhood terrorist who obviously meant to send a message far beyond the 1700 block of Gertrude Street.
Mrs. Alston has pretty much given up on those currently caught up in the eye-for-an-eye street life that respects neither cops nor children nor mothers. “We have to work with the future and let this take its course,” she said, going on to explain that her main focus is working with children to steer them away from the abyss. “You know, children are like sponges. Whatever gets absorbed in that sponge, that’s what we wring back out of it.”
Annette March Grier, whose family owns the March Funeral Homes and who is founder of a grief-counseling center, Roberta House, senses a growing hopelessness and despair. “People are overwhelmed. Children are even stressed.” But through it all she said she sees “injured people trying to heal injured people.“
I suppose that’s what explains an effort underway since May to promote a 72-hour ceasefire from 12:01 am Friday Aug. 4 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday Aug. 6. I offer a tip of my hat to anyone trying to do more than convene yet another talkathon. But there is something so fundamentally sad when we have arrived at the point of having to take to the airwaves, to distribute flyers and to promote a hashtag (#BaltimoreCeasefire) just to grab the attention of those of us blithely enjoying our beautiful city and those of us destroying swaths of it one life at a time.
So kudos to Ericka Bridgeford and Ellen Gee for nurturing this idea. But the death of Charmaine Wilson should have been more than enough to shake us up. If it had been, then we would not need to plan ahead for a homicide-free weekend of life-affirming activities — while hoping that the bad guys remember to RSVP.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.