Violence prevention ideas aired at City Hall meeting

The founder of last year's 300 Men March and two Baltimore City Council members held an emergency planning meeting Friday evening at City Hall, saying the bloody start to the new year spurred them to develop a violence prevention strategy sooner than they had originally anticipated.

The city recorded 16 homicides in the first 12 days of the year. January's toll stood at 18 as of Friday night. Last year, there were 235 homicides in Baltimore, an 8 percent increase over 2012 and a four-year high.

"A murder a day wasn't something we could just sit on," said Munir Bahar, who founded the march movement last year to galvanize residents, particularly men, to combat violence. "We were kind of hoping the wintertime would calm things down a little and we would have more time for planning."

Also Friday, it emerged that a 24-year-old man killed this month was the nephew of City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. Tavon Antonio Young, who was sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison for his role in a high-profile drug distribution conspiracy, was found fatally shot Jan. 17 in an alley in the Harwood neighborhood.

The funeral was Friday, and Young was unavailable for comment. His spokesman, Lester Davis, said the councilman was "spending his time supporting his sister and their extended family during this period of grief."

Last May, a 20-year-old cousin of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was fatally shot, the victim of a suspected home invasion robbery.

Friday's meeting was called by Bahar and Councilmen Brandon Scott and Nick Mosby. "We wanted to get a plan together and get people mobilized, so when spring hits we can be ready to deploy into the neighborhoods," said Scott, who represents Northeast Baltimore and is vice chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 100, including community group leaders and Police Department representatives, packed a meeting room at City Hall as Bahar, a fitness trainer, delivered a high-energy presentation.

"This is the charge: How do we do more?" he said. "How do we increase our presence on the streets?"

Among the ideas he outlined were the creation of a "mobilized street force" of at least 100 people and a citywide communications network of 1,000 residents to alert their neighbors to incidents in "real time."

Bahar also said that starting April 1, this year's efforts would be concentrated in Sandtown-Winchester and Belair-Edison, neighborhoods he said bore the brunt of shootings and homicides last year.

The audience included five members of the safety-patrolling Guardian Angels in their trademark red berets and Philip Leaf, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence.

"Anything that's trying to bring people together constructively to positively engage youth is a good activity," Leaf said. The planning session seemed like a logical next step to build on last year's 300 Men March and subsequent smaller forays into crime-saddled parts of town, he said, adding that one goal should be more follow-up engagement with youth.

The 300 Men March took place July 5, cutting east across the city along North Avenue. Promoted largely through social media and word of mouth, the nearly 10-mile trek drew more than 600 people, according to participants, among them Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.

A number of smaller marches were held later in the summer, including one in which about 60 men walked through East Baltimore, speaking to people they met and handing out fliers detailing a "code of honor" for peacefully resolving conflicts.

Bahar said before the meeting that last year's higher homicide total did not make him feel those efforts had been in vain. He said he knew that lasting change takes years.

"What's disheartening is the lack of participation from the community," he said. "We can only round up 30 to 40 men to come out on the streets at night and do this anti-violence work. That's the discouraging part."

He said he hoped Friday's meeting will help change that.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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