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Baltimore hits midyear mark with 144 homicides

Baltimore has seen 144 homicide in the first six months of the year, a 48 percent increase over last year.

Danielle Wilder said she has moved from her Baltimore home but isn't telling anyone — even family members — where she lives now.

"The next thing, one of us will be dead. We don't know. We have moved, and I have not given my address to family members. We just don't know," she said.

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Wilder lost her sister, Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne, 31, and nephew, 7-year-old Kester "Tony" Browne, last month when the mother and son were found shot to death in their Southwest Baltimore home.

The Brownes are two of the city's 144 homicide victims in the first six months of the year, a 48 percent increase over last year. Much of the surge in violence has come in the aftermath of the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, which touched off protests, rioting, looting and arson in the city.

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More than half of this year's killings — 74 — have occurred in the past two months.

Recent homicide victims also include a 16-year-old City College high school student who was raped and killed and a 2-year-old girl who suffered second-degree burns and died after police say her father left her in a car for several hours.

"It is extremely disheartening when we think about the progress that we have made," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

Rawlings-Blake said she remains optimistic that the numbers will change with persistence from police and the community, and she noted how the city has weathered homicide spikes in the past.

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"The men and women of the Police Department are working very hard every day, but the level of violence we see is unacceptable," she said.

The mayor said she will continue to push the Police Department, but she added that police and the community must continue to look for better ways to work together, and for witnesses to come forward to help solve cases.

"The community is engaged. This is about taking back our streets," she said.

Rawlings-Blake also said she is working to bring additional resources to the city through partnerships with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies.

City Councilman Brandon Scott said responsibility for the increase in homicides does not rest solely with police or any single agency or elected official, nor can it be attributed to a single issue.

"People cannot boil them down to one simple factor, gangs and drugs," said Scott, vice chair of the public safety committee. "When you have people killing children in cars, that's something that has to be dealt with. It shows you that things are a lot deeper than many folks think."

At this time last year, Baltimore officials had pointed to one of lowest midyear homicide figures of the past three decades, with 98. This year, the city reached the 100-death mark on May 21.

The number of nonfatal shootings this year has also risen significantly, to 285, up from 151 at this time last year.

Scott said the violence will only be alleviated by a community-wide effort, by providing opportunities for young people such as summer camps and summer jobs. He also continued to urge men to act as role models.

To men in Baltimore, he said, "You can't just go home and sit back and do nothing."

While homicides are up, arrests have plummeted in recent months, from 2,677 in April to 1,531 in May. The homicide clearance rate also has decreased to 40 percent in June, which is down 16 percent from the city's average for the past four years.

Those numbers have led to allegations of a police slowdown. Last month, Rawlings-Blake said city officers need to do their jobs or face internal discipline.

The president of the police union, Lt. Gene Ryan, dismissed claims of a slowdown, but he has said officers "may be second-guessing themselves."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said last month that officers were struggling to do basic police work in the Western District, a 3-square-mile area that was the site of Gray's arrest and the epicenter of protests and rioting. He said officers are constantly surrounded by residents recording their actions on cellphone cameras.

Batts, saying the department is working to re-establish relationships with that community, deployed commanders from across the city with experience and contacts in West Baltimore to the district. Backup officers are also being sent on routine calls to help protect other officers.

Some Baltimore officials have blamed some of the surge in violence on the dealing of drugs looted from pharmacies during the riots. DEA officials have not said how much was taken or announced any arrests in those cases.

The city has also seen a sharp increase in juvenile homicides, with 11 so far this year, compared to six at this time last year.

Among the victims is 16-year-old Arnesha Bowers, who was found June 7 in a Northeast Baltimore rowhouse that had been burned. Two men and a 14-year-old boy have been indicted on murder, rape, arson and gang charges in her death.

The death of 7-year-old Kester "Tony" Brown and his mother also shocked the community. Wilder recalled her close relationship with her nephew, who she said spent weekends at her home and stayed with her after school.

Police have not made any arrests in the case.

"We are still living in a big denial. It's too much for us to process," she said. "The longer it takes, the less likely it is someone will get arrested."

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