She has suffered the loss that every one of us who has a child fears the most, and Nina Epps wants to know who killed her 3-year-old child, McKenzie Elliott. We may have not pulled the trigger, but I believe that every one of us in this city and many people beyond its borders share responsibility in this little girl's death and the roll call of death that occurs in Baltimore every year. The person who pulled the trigger did not intend to kill a child last Friday. None of us did. But we have all participated. I'm sure that many people will deny their role and will believe that I'm deranged to even suggest that is the truth. But I believe that is the truth.
Let's start with the obvious and move out through the circles that surround this tragedy. The person who pulled the gun out and squeezed the trigger intending to kill someone besides McKenzie is most responsible and must live with that moment forever. He can't rewind and erase it. None of us have that power. If you had controlled that urge of rage, of revenge, of whatever it was that justified to you that this was the right thing to do, that it was the only possible action that you could take, McKenzie would still be alive and well, and so would countless others who have been gunned down in the past 40 years.
From the news reports it sounds like someone else was driving the car that is now a murder vehicle; you are the next most responsible. You knew why you were driving to that location. You facilitated and enabled McKenzie's death and you must live with that choice. You are not alone in being an accessory to murder or manslaughter or whatever the technical charge becomes. Many more have supported killings by driving the vehicle or by other means, and I'm sure at the time it felt like the right thing to do, the best solution to the problem at hand. Do you still feel that way?
Someone besides McKenzie was the target. You were the intended victim. You are lucky, or destiny was on your side. You are still alive. You share responsibility in McKenzie's death because your previous actions caused you to become a target at that place in that moment. Had you been living your life to a different set of rules no one would have been looking to kill you last Friday. You share that truth with hundreds of others, some not so fortunate.
The circle begins to widen at this point and snare the rest of us, bit by bit. How many of us have known the truth about a shooting, have witnessed something or heard something but remained quiet out of fear, or even worse out of apathy? You share responsibility because you have allowed fear to take over. You have allowed a small percentage of people to literally "get away with murder." The killers feel that they have stacked the odds in their favor and that they can intimidate and bully us and not be punished for actions that we all agree deserve to be punished. If those who know the truth don't speak out we are condemned to suffer more.
McKenzie will not be the last innocent victim. Many of the people who are participating in this on-going string of violence that reaches back into the 1960s are emotionally broken and "lost souls." A healthy, whole person does not kill without provocation. You must believe that murder is the solution to your problem, whatever your problem is. I would kill to defend the life of my wife and children, but I can't imagine it otherwise. I understand that some of us were abused as children, some of us don't have a good education, some can't find a job that pays a living wage. I understand the lure of drugs, the big money that can be made selling them, the "rock star" lifestyle, and that's where all of us begin to share responsibility.
It's a fact that most of the murder in Baltimore is drug related and has been since the homicide numbers started to rise decades ago. Any of us who are buying illegal drugs share responsibility in this and many other murders in this city. The dealers can't sue each other in court if something goes wrong in their business. They have no legal recourse and they feel that they must enforce their own "justice." Let's be real. As long as dealing drugs is a viable business model in Baltimore, these murders will feel justified to those committing them and the string of death will continue unless the rules of engagement change.
Unless we all stop buying drugs today and the profit disappears from that business, the only viable solution to bullets killing innocents like McKenzie and to anyone else they kill in Baltimore is a cease fire. The leaders of the drug organizations need to demand it of their people. Families need to demand it of their sons and brothers. We must ask our friends to put down their guns. Educators need to talk with their students about it. Religious leaders need to remind us every time they have a chance. The killing doesn't end any other way. The police can't arrest our way out of this problem. We haven't been able to accomplish that in 40 years. No speech from City Hall has made a lasting difference. No march has stopped the killing.
I really don't care how you make your living. We have thousands of heroin addicts who need to be supplied until they get effective treatment. We have thousands more people using cocaine, pot and other drugs daily. I'd bet that the gross from selling drugs makes it a top-10 business in this city. That isn't going to change. Far too many of us like our drugs far too much. Drugs won the war a long time ago.
Those with the power need to rise up and demand a cease fire from their people. It is the only real solution, or there will be another family, another mother asking the same question next week, next month, next year, and on to eternity.
Why did my baby die? Who did it?
Momma, we all did. I'm sorry for your loss and my role in it.
Mike Wicklein, Baltimore
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