300 gather to lament city's slide into violence


The 86-year-old woman murdered alone in her apartment. The man shot watching Fourth of July fireworks. The 18-year-old man gunned down senselessly on the street.

The Rev. Richard Poetzel led funeral masses for all three in the past 14 months at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Highlandtown. The mourners always ask, Why?

"Unfortunately, I don't have the answers," Father Poetzel told a gathering of Southeast Baltimore residents yesterday. "I know that all of us, as we confront neighborhood violence, can and must make our presence felt."

That was the message as more than 300 people gathered on the Canton waterfront in the hot late afternoon to mourn their city's descent into violence.

The rally comes only days after Baltimore police launched a high-profile task force in response to a series of shocking murders and assaults, including several involving young children.

The gathering, organized by 15 area churches, was part prayer vigil, part pep rally and part salute to the neighborhood's good Samaritans. But mostly it was a call for people to confront what is happening in their communities.

"I am tired of seeing 9-year-old prostitutes," the Rev. Angel Nunez, of the Spanish Christian Church, told the gathering. "I am tired of seeing 11-year-old junkies. I am tired of hearing about 12-year-olds holding up banks. It breaks your heart.

"We need to recognize, Number One, . . . that there is a God," Mr. Nunez proclaimed, his voice loud and insistent. "Not only recognizing that there is a God, but go on our knees before that God. We need to say, 'Lord, we're tired of the hurt, of the pain, of the broken homes.' "

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke urged the crowd to get involved in the fight against street crime.

"It will be all of us working with the community and love to make this happen," Mr. Schmoke said.

The coalition of churches used the occasion to honor some crime victims and good Samaritans.

Among them was Expedito "Pedro" Lugo, 24, who was beaten nearly to death with his own baseball bat near Patterson Park last year. Mr. Lugo, smiling broadly and walking slowly, accepted a red rose as a gift from the coalition.

"I would like to thank all of you for all of the love you have shown me today," Mr. Lugo said in Spanish as a companion translated.

Also honored were two people who went to Mr. Lugo's aid -- Sterling Willis, who works in a store near where the assault occurred, and Margaret Reamer, who lives nearby.

The group also presented a red rose to Maj. Harry Koffensburger, commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Southeastern District. He, too, urged people to do what they can to stop crime.

"It's time to turn the television off, come out on the steps and introduce yourself to someone you may not have met -- your neighbor," Major Koffensburger said.

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