Several Southwest Baltimore neighbors began their Thursday morning with a visit to the South Monroe Grocery store and more bad news.
The lingering scent of bleach and a police presence outside the corner store signaled to patrons that another homicide had occurred. The officers soon placed a call to the fire department to wash the remaining flecks of blood from the pavement.
Hours earlier, a man and a woman were fatally shot on the sidewalk there — the 299th and 300th individuals killed in Baltimore in 2019.
Their deaths marked the city’s fifth consecutive year with at least 300 homicides. The staggering total has become an unofficial milestone in Baltimore’s annual struggle to quell the deadly violence.
Police confirmed the double shooting Thursday near the grocery store at the corner of Monroe and McHenry streets in West Baltimore’s Carrollton Ridge neighborhood. Prior to that, 21-year-old Donnell Brockington, of Aberdeen, died at an area hospital after he was found Wednesday night with gunshot wounds in the 2600 block of McElderry St. in East Baltimore’s McElderry Park.
“Every murder is a tragedy. We don’t want any. We strive to clear them all," Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Thursday on WYPR’s Midday show with Tom Hall.
Harrison, who previously served as New Orleans’ chief, said it took years for that city to reverse its crime trends. He said he attributed the reversals there partially to apprehending and holding criminals accountable. By solving more homicides and shootings, he said, they were able to prevent more.
He said a new deployment strategy in Baltimore placed officers in the area of a shooting Wednesday night, allowing them to catch a fleeing vehicle.
"Our officers were right where they are supposed to be,” he said.
However, Harrison said, to address the “culture of violence” in Baltimore, there must be programs offering young men a path away from a life of crime.
“If you’re not doing that, we are only responding to it,” he said.
Men and women passing through South Monroe Grocery Thursday said they were exhausted — of their neighborhood, the deaths and the endless grief.
Akagg Beard referred to the woman killed earlier in the morning as a lifelong friend and a good person. Beard was stabbed herself three months ago during a robbery.
And, to Joseph Calloway, it seemed that people in Baltimore “get killed for nothing.”
Less than a year ago, Calloway’s brother Edward Calloway also was shot and killed near the mini-market. An aging memorial to Edward still clings to a signpost outside the front door.
“I wish I was rich, I wish I wasn’t in the neighborhood, but I wish a lot of things,” Calloway said. “But it’s the game of life and life is dirty.”
Who are this year’s victims?
Most are young and male, but nearly one in 10 are women. Four young children are counted among this year’s victims.
The kids include one infant, 2-month-old Elsie Cottman, who died in May, allegedly at the hand of her father. Also in May, Caleb Carter, 7, died in Baltimore County from injuries stemming from a 2012 case, when his parents were arrested and charged with child abuse in the city, according to the medical examiner. City detectives re-classified the toddler’s death as a homicide in October.
A 2-year-old boy, Trevor Graham, died of blunt force trauma in January; a family friend has been charged and awaits trial. Malachi Lawson, 4, was found dead in a Baltimore dumpster with untreated burns in early August. His mother and her wife were arrested and charged. The little boy is remembered for having an infectious smile and an affinity for “Paw Patrol.”
The most common ages for a homicide victim are 25 and 27; through Nov. 9, around 43% of victims were in their 20s. These include 24-year-old Markel Jackson, who was shot to death in July, and 27-year-old Donye Lowther, who was killed in a September carjacking.
Two hundred seventy-one victims were male; 29 were female. Bailey Reeves, a 17-year-old transgender woman from Rockville, died after being shot in the torso in early September. Reeves was one of at least three transgender women killed in Maryland in 2019. Jennyfer Velazquez, 19, was killed at the end of May while walking to get ice cream.
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Police have not released the race of every homicide victim; in past years, when records were more complete, the vast majority — more than 90% — of victims were black.
Broadway East has experienced the biggest year-over-year increase in homicides, tripling to 12 so far this year from 4 at this time last year, followed by Central Park Heights with 11 this year up from 5 a year ago.
The homicide count in Brooklyn has dropped to 5 from 11 last year; Edmondson Village, which saw six homicides by this time last year, has recorded none so far in 2019. About a third of homicides happened in the Western and Eastern police districts.
Some victims, like young Carter, died as a result of incidents occurring in years past. Michele Blanding, who died in May at the age of 59, was shot and wounded nearly a quarter century ago. Alfredo Brathwaite, who was shot and paralyzed in 2000, succumbed to his injuries in March at the age of 40. Quinton Rodgers, 31, also died in March, after being shot multiple times in 2004. All three deaths were ruled homicides.
A grim milestone
The 300 figure for homicides is a symbolic benchmark set during the 1990s, when the city, which had about 100,000 more residents, averaged upwards of 320 murders each year.
Last year, there were 309 homicides in Baltimore, or 51 per 100,000 people who live in the city — the highest rate of any American city with more than 500,000 people, according to FBI data. The city’s homicide rate reached a record high in 2017.
The official police tally does not include the deaths of Gregory Sinclair, 31, whose killing in January the State’s Attorney’s Office ruled as self-defense, or that of a 49-year-old man, who was killed in October from what police now say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head while arguing with his brother.