DaShawn McGrier, a Safe Streets violence interrupter at McElderry Park, was one of the three men shot and killed Wednesday night on E. Monument Street, a spokeswoman for the organization confirmed.
McGrier had been working with Safe Streets for a little over a month, going to welding school by day and joining the anti-violence program at night, said Living Classrooms Foundation spokeswoman Meg Ward, who called him hardworking and a devoted, present father.
Living Classrooms is a nonprofit that operates Safe Streets sites in the McElderry Park and Belair-Edison neighborhoods. He was working at the time he was shot, Ward said.
“He was passionate about reducing violence in the community and wanted to be a positive part of that,” Ward said. “He was from the community. He wanted the best for his community.”
“He knew that violence and trauma were present in the community, and he wanted to change that.”
The quadruple shooting in East Baltimore’s Milton Montford neighborhood, several blocks east of Johns Hopkins Hospital, left three men dead and another person injured. Police on Friday identified the other victims who died as Tyrone Allen, 28, of Montford Avenue and Hassan Smith, 24, of Rockingham Court.
Police officers responded at about 7:25 p.m. to a ShotSpotter alert in the 2400 block of E. Monument Street, where they found four men suffering from apparent gunshot wounds.
Another man was killed in another shooting Thursday afternoon in West Baltimore, near the 1600 block of W. North Avenue, bringing the death toll in less than 24 hours to four.
McGrier is the third Safe Streets worker to be killed in a little over a year. Kenyell Wilson was killed in Cherry Hill in July and Dante Barksdale was shot to death outside Douglass Homes last January.
McGrier also was the victim in 2018 of a savage beating by then-Baltimore Police Officer Arthur Williams that was caught on cellphone footage and went viral. The video and testimony at Williams’ criminal trial showed the attack came as McGrier was walking away from Williams and asking “why are you harassing me.”
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Yolanda Tanner found Williams guilty and sentenced him to nine months in prison, and McGrier received a settlement of $500,000 from the city. He was hospitalized for three days and suffered a broken jaw and broken ribs among other injuries.
Warren Brown, an attorney who represented McGrier in his lawsuit against Baltimore Police, said McGrier had received about $300,000 from the settlement, and had some “sensible plans” to start breeding high-end dogs and open a kennel.
Brown didn’t know McGrier had joined Safe Streets but said he wasn’t surprised. The 2018 excessive force case was precipitated by McGrier’s intervention in a separate incident, when he came to “the aid” of a woman who officers were confronting, Brown said.
“It sounds like that would have been him,” Brown said. “He was that kind of way.”
Safe Streets is a city-backed organization with workers who have had their own scrapes with the law but are respected on the streets and step in to “interrupt” or mediate conflicts before violence occurs.
Mayor Brandon Scott’s five-year crime-fighting plan calls for expanding the number of violence prevention programs and potentially revamping the current Safe Streets model. In October, Scott announced $50 million of the city’s federal coronavirus recovery allocation would be put toward violence prevention work.
“Our Safe Streets workers put their lives on the line day in and day out because they believe in a better future for our city — a future we all should believe in,” Scott said in a statement released Wednesday night.
Ward said Thursday that the Safe Streets East team was “heartbroken.”
“It underscores the incredible need for violence interventions that work,” added Ward, calling Safe Streets a research-based, evidence-based model. “Our Safe Streets team believes in what they do.”
In a statement provided by Ward, Cheryl Riviere, the managing director of community safety at Living Classrooms, said: “DaShawn would always say that if we could change people’s mentality and give them some options, resources, a GED, a trade, a job ... They’ll listen.”
Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Safe Streets staff are feeling “more determined to work aggressively to engage communities suffering from gun violence in the wake of this loss.”
The mayor’s plan also calls for an evaluation of the current Safe Streets program seeking ways to “prioritize the safety, support and training of outreach workers and site staff,” according to Stefanie Mavronis, chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, who has studied Safe Streets’ impact, said Wednesday’s incident underscores the inherent danger of the violence interruption work, as well as the importance of offering workers protections, training and support.
Webster added he thought it appropriate to honor Safe Streets workers similarly to police officers killed in the line of duty, with the city recognizing that “someone was risking their life on behalf of the community’s safety and lost their life.”
Such recognition would send a message to potential shooters that “you just don’t do this,” Webster said, and a sign to violence interrupters that they are “honored, revered” and that “the city is there for you (and) your communities are there for you.”
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“It is really critical in the response to this kind of tragedy that the city and the community really embraces the family, holds up this individual in the most respectful way possible,” Webster said, “and make a clear statement that these workers are very highly valued, doing a very important job.”
A citywide Safe Streets response is expected to take place Saturday, Ward said, but details still were being finalized.
An early evaluation of Safe Streets by Johns Hopkins researchers found strong reductions in homicides and shootings in certain neighborhoods, but a more recent report in 2018 found that effects had waned over time. Researchers are analyzing additional data now, but Webster said it was too soon to share any information.
McElderry Park is the city’s longest-running Safe Streets site, The Baltimore Sun previously reported, and has in the past seen stretches without homicides of up to 500 days. Safe Streets opened its first site roughly 15 years ago and has become a flagship anti-violence program in Baltimore, at a time when communities have called for public safety strategies outside of law enforcement.
Baltimore’s current model is largely the bare necessities, Webster added. A retooling of the system could include more intense interventions, with more connections to services, resources and supports, or a response across neighborhood boundaries.
“As we think about what can we expect from community violence intervention, we can’t expect them to do miracles,” Webster said. “That’s what we’ve done: We’ve put a relatively small number of workers, with a relatively modest amount of resources, spread out throughout our large city.”
“We have to build a system that matches the nature of the problem.”