The Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Tuesday decried the recent spate of violence in the city and called for more job opportunities for ex-offenders to help stem the bloodshed.
Six more people were shot in the city Tuesday — one of them just blocks from the NAACP headquarters and a few hours after the organization's news conference. A total of 170 nonfatal shootings have been reported in the city this year.
Tessa Hill-Aston, the chapter president, said the organization had canvassed the West Baltimore housing project where Freddie Gray was arrested, and many residents cited as an underlying problem the difficulties people face when trying to find work with a criminal record.
"Especially a lot of young men said, 'Please help. We need jobs. We need our records clean,'" Hill-Aston said.
Gray, 25, died last month from injuries sustained while in police custody, sparking rioting and weeks of protests. The number of homicides and nonfatal shootings also have spiked.
Hill-Aston said the NAACP plans to help prior offenders expunge their records in hopes that would allow them to get jobs and off street corners.
"People who are working and are spending time at jobs — that takes away from the crime element," she said.
Hassan Giordano, of the NAACP's criminal justice committee, said the group had planned a march to a stretch of North Carey Street that has seen several recent shootings — the same street where one of Tuesday's shootings took place — but elected not to because of the hot weather.
He called the 95 homicides in the city in the first five months "unacceptable." Homicides are up nearly 40 percent compared with the same time last year, while nonfatal shootings are up 60 percent.
"All we kept hearing from the community was, 'What will you do about this rash of violence?'" Giordano said. "Black-on-black violence is inexcusable in the same way any other violence is, and we are not going to stand by silently and watch our young brothers and sisters die."
State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who also serves on the committee, said the violence is a "symptom of a deeper cause."
"We have communities in crisis and in pain," he said. "What we saw over the last month is not unique. It's folks who demand opportunities, who want to find a way to have a different future, to maximize their own potential."
Ferguson encouraged people to donate to YouthWorks, a summer jobs program that matches young people between the ages of 14 and 21 to five-week summer jobs with private companies, nonprofits and government employers. He said 7,900 people signed up this year but the program only has room for 4,500.
Or, he suggested employers can hire city youth on their own.
"That's the key. That's the link," he said. "The folks, the kids in our communities, they just want a chance. They want a chance to maximize who they are and what they can become."
Rev. Kenji Scott, a local preacher and activist, agreed that the city's violence problem runs deep. He also said the Baltimore has issues that jobs won't fix.
"Many of them come from broken families," he said. "When you don't know love, and you ain't never been nurtured, it's easy to take a life."