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Gang members quelled riots, should stop Baltimore's bleeding

Self-described gang members stand with members of the Baltimore City Council to condemn rioting.
Self-described gang members stand with members of the Baltimore City Council to condemn rioting. (Luke Broadwater / Baltimore Sun)

Here's an idea: Let's have Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young call on those gang members who helped quell violence on Riot Monday to help quell violence the other 364 days of the year.

There were two more shootings Monday night, another Tuesday morning, and by the time you read this, there will probably be more. There were 10 shootings Sunday and four homicides over the weekend.

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There were 10 shootings Thursday. By Monday night, 87 people had been killed in Baltimore in 2015, nearly 30 percent more than last year at this time. Nonfatal shootings are up nearly 50 percent.

None of this occurred on Riot Monday. It's occurred since.

We're glad that several self-described gang members (SDGMs) got involved and tried to bring peace to the streets of West Baltimore when this city descended into chaos April 27 after Freddie Gray's funeral. I must admit it was weird seeing two of the SDGMs the next day standing with the president of the City Council and two other council members to call for an end to the violence and rioting.

But this city needed all the help it could get during the last week of April.

My question is: Where are the SDGMs now? Please tell me the president of the City Council got a few phone numbers. Please tell me he didn't form a questionable alliance just to bring a relatively quick end to the vandalism and looting. Please tell us Prez Jack got something more than a photo op out of all this.

You'll recall that at a City Hall news conference the day after the riots, two gang members sporting red bandannas stood next to Young and said they were "against the violence." One of the SDGMs identified himself as Trey and said: "If we can stick together doing something negative, then we can stick together doing something positive."

My point exactly: Use whatever influence you have to help end the day-to-day violence that sucks the life out of this city and keeps us high on the FBI's most-violent list. How about that, Trey?

"These men have been out on the street quelling the senseless violence that has consumed our city," Young told the news media.

Well, fine. Where are they now?

We are going through what a certain former public information officer for the Baltimore Police Department once called "a little bit of a spike in violence," which is why he is a former PIO. That time (July 2013), there were 20 people shot and eight killed over a weekend. So, of course, Baltimore has seen these miserable surges before. Even as the city makes progress against crime generally, the shootings and homicides continue at a high per capita rate.

We assume — in part, because Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts frequently mentions it — that gangs are behind a lot of the violence that eats away at Baltimore. So that's why, even in the smoky midst of civil unrest, some people criticized Young and other council members for standing with SDGMs and applauding their civic activism.

But apparently not all SDGMs are the same, and this is where the story takes a twist.

Here's how Lester Davis, Young's top aide, explained it: "The self-identified members who attended the [April 28] press conference and worked to keep the peace were clear that they couldn't control the actions of all of their peers. When Jack was in the community, there were individuals receptive to restoring the peace and others not interested in that. He's willing to partner with anyone who's interested in being peaceful."

Here's how Young defended his actions on Facebook: "Our job is to engage them so we can give them better options to a brighter future. This is why they veer off the path. They go to those who will listen and take them in. What the media and naysayers don't know is that they wanted to make a positive change and we were going to make sure it happened."

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In case you're wondering what that means, it means this: At least two of the SDGMs who came out to quell the rioting asked for help from Young's staff. So, according to Davis, the day after the City Hall news conference, one of them met with a dean at Coppin State University to begin the process of applying for fall enrollment, another signed up for a GED class at the Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore.

Good for them, and good luck to them. I hope they'll soon become civic-minded, self-described ex-gang members (SDXGMs) who work the streets to curtail the shootings. This beleaguered, bleeding city could use them. A lot of them.

Dan Rodricks' column also appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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