Shootings get city's summer off to violent start

First a bicyclist was hit by a stray bullet last Sunday afternoon on Kirk Avenue. Then a man was shot in his car several blocks away on East 32nd Street near Lake Montebello early Monday. A half-mile from there, a man police were trying to question barricaded himself in a house Tuesday.

With a flare-up of violence in his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood and other parts of the city, Mark Washington jumped into action.


"How can we help?" Washington emailed Richard Worley Jr., the police major in his district.

Washington, who heads the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello Community Corp., was among those alarmed by the violence that marred Memorial Day weekend and anxious to prevent it from spilling into the summer season. There were 12 shootings in Baltimore over the holiday weekend, leaving three dead, including a 1-year-old boy in Cherry Hill.


Police said Saturday that Melvin Taylor, 23, who was shot over the Memorial Day weekend has died. Police also were investigating three nonfatal shootings Saturday.

While statistics show crime is down in the city this year, researchers such as Johns Hopkins' Daniel Webster say a cluster of shootings can indeed lead to further violence.

Victims' family members and friends might retaliate, for example, or a "social contagion" of sorts can spread as residents act on feelings of vulnerability, said Webster, who directs the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Suddenly you're on edge, you think, 'It's not safe out there. If I go out, I have to make sure I have my weapon with me, and it's loaded,'" Webster said. "Then you find yourself in a situation. ... You reach for your weapon, and it just kind of spreads.


"Instead of a shouting match, you have a shooting match."

Webster's research suggests some "seasonality" to gun violence, with weekends and summer bringing slight increases. He attributes that to opportunity — more people being out and about equals more chances for fights to break out.

Or, as Janice McCoy said last week as she sat on her steps in the Broadway East neighborhood: "It gets hot and people get stupid."

Under a hazy sky, as temperatures climbed toward the 90s one afternoon, McCoy sat on her shaded marble steps scooping out a bubble gum-flavored snowball; a folding table held a half-dozen bottles of flavors. But on Tuesday afternoon, a 15-year-old boy had been shot near Collington Square Elementary, the school that McCoy's two grandchildren attend.

Until then, McCoy said, the neighborhood had been relatively quiet in recent months, thanks to what seemed like an increased police presence.

"I am so happy I see them walking the block. That's what it needs to be," she said. "The police have been there on foot, on bikes. They made a difference."

Still, McCoy expects more violence with the warm weather drawing people outdoors.

Some academic studies have found links between rising temperatures and rising criminality, while others have debunked the notion.

In any event, Webster said, police and residents can find ways to prevent the rash of Memorial Day weekend shootings from spiraling into further violence. Webster said community-based initiatives have had some success in the past. One of those is Safe Streets, in which outreach workers — some of whom have a criminal past of their own — immediately respond to a shooting and try to prevent retaliatory violence.

Safe Streets took the lead in organizing Wednesday's vigil in Cherry Hill for Carter Scott, the 1-year-old shot to death while sitting in a car with his father last weekend. Group members hoped to help residents deal with their shock and anger.

Police said the shooters' target was the infant's father, Rashaw Scott, 22, who was seriously wounded.

Court records show that he had been accused weeks before of attacking the child's mother. Christina White filed for a protective order in April, alleging that Rashaw Scott had beaten her and slammed her head through a wall. White, however, did not go to court to get a final order, so no action was taken on her complaint.

Scott's family is preparing for the infant's funeral services Monday morning at First Apostolic Church in the Washington Hill neighborhood. The family is raising money for the funeral and accepting donations though their attorney, Sondra Douglas.

Meanwhile, police have increased patrols in neighborhoods where shootings have occurred and are working to get "in front of" any retaliatory acts that might be in the works, said Deputy Police Commissioner John Skinner.

"We can see patterns of violence in the city, and we're going to have a lot more officers out on the streets," Skinner said. "People will see officers walking through their neighborhoods and driving through them."

For Washington and his neighbors in "Chum," as they call their community, the shootings were traumatic and a reminder of the need for constant vigilance. Already, they said, some residents try to help police with tips on crimes and participate in citizens patrol groups that regularly walk the streets with officers.

"We do have citizens come out — that shows a level of commitment in the community," Washington said. "We try to establish we are a partner [of police]. You can't be a challenged neighborhood in Baltimore City and not try to have a working relationship with police."

Resident Anthony Walters said that while the weekend shootings concern him, "our good outweighs our bad." Community activists continue to hold cookouts on some of the roughest streets, he said, and try to engage the kind of young men who hang out on corners, perhaps up to no good.

"We're not threatening to them — what we try to tell them is, 'You can do something better,'" Walters said. "They know we care about them, but we're also not going to tolerate craziness."

Mary Pat Clarke, the councilwoman who represents the area, lauded residents for actively protecting their neighborhood, by attending board hearings over problem bars, for example.

"This is a community that is always on the lookout to prevent crime," Clarke said. "They don't just sit back and watch."

That is what makes the recent shootings so disheartening for the police and residents who have worked together to overcome the neighborhood's history of violence, Skinner said.

"What's great about that neighborhood is they have a strong community organization," he said. "They've had incredible gains over the years. But there is gang activity and there is drug activity there."

The Memorial Day weekend shootings recalled an even bloodier holiday three years ago. During the 2010 holiday weekend, 10 people were killed in the city through a deadly mix of domestic disputes, a gang feud and, in one case, a hair-pulling incident that led to a holiday cookout being shot up.

It was preceded and followed by weekends of violence, leading police to step up patrols in certain neighborhoods and seize illegal weapons.

This year, police and residents are taking heart in the overall decrease in crime.


Washington said Chum residents continue to try to "glean information" that might help police. Worley, the Northeast District commander, welcomes the assistance, calling the residents "the biggest asset" in the fight against crime.


"We will win this," Worley said in response to Washington's email in the wake of the neighborhood shootings. "It'll just take some time."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.


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