A surge of violence in Baltimore that started Labor Day weekend has despaired residents and drawn consternation from officials. And it continued unabated into a new week, with fatal shootings in locations from Federal Hill Park to East Baltimore/Midway.
The fatal shootings of a 39-year-old man at the popular park overlooking the Inner Harbor and another man in the 2300 block of Homewood Ave., as wall as the nonfatal shootings of three other people, mean that at least 52 people have been shot in a nine-day span, 14 of them fatally
“People just want to be able to wake up and go to work and not have to worry about it,” said Tim Hearn, a property manager in the Federal Hill area who was walking his dog in the park Monday morning, after the fatal shooting there about 11 p.m. Sunday.
The shooting, he said, will “heighten the concerns residents have had over the past three to four years.”
“I don’t know what could be done about it,” Hearn lamented.
Baltimore Police officials did not reply to multiple requests for comment about the spate of shootings.
However, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison sounded a familiar refrain on WBAL radio Monday morning.
“We have to change that culture of violence, but we have to do a better job of figuring out how to interrupt these violent interactions before they happen," Harrison said. "But that takes a great deal of intelligence and community support to feed that information to us so we can be in the right place and be with the right people.”
City Council President Brandon Scott said the recent violence has been “horrific” and pointed at failed city leadership and the absence of a comprehensive crime plan.
“These aren’t numbers,” Scott said. “These are people. These are mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters, and sons and daughters who have lost their parents.”
The Democratic nominee for Baltimore mayor said he spoke with police leadership earlier Monday and emphasized the need to intercede with violence immediately and identify the people who they “know are committing violent crimes.”
“We know violent crime in Baltimore can be curbed,” Scott said. “What’s lacking is the leadership and focus on how to do it.”
A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Monday morning in Federal Hill Park, there was little evidence that a man died after he was found shot in the park the night before. Mothers pushed baby strollers around while a man did pushups on a nearby bench as part of his workout, with no police tape or investigators hampering their path.
But after a police officer came to the park around 9 a.m., talk soon turned to the shooting. Residents out for their morning walks came to talk with the officer, who provided only basic information to them and a Baltimore Sun reporter about what happened during the shooting. The officer declined to identify himself.
Kyle Frank, a 30-year-old Federal Hill resident who lives near the park, said he heard the shooting from his home while he was watching football and his fiancée was asleep.
Baltimore Police wrote in a news release that officers were called to the 300 block of Warren Ave. at 11:03 p.m. for a report of gunshots in the area and found an unidentified man suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He later died at a hospital.
Frank said he heard “four quick shots” and “a lot of screaming” before police showed up.
“My instinct was to go to help, but then I thought maybe not if the [shooter] is still there,” Frank said.
While Frank said the neighborhood has been dealing with nightly fireworks, he was able to identify the gunshots as they were fired rapidly and the screaming reaction was obviously someone in pain.
Hearn, the property manager, said Warren Avenue, the road that borders the park where police say they found the 39-year-old man, has seen a handful of violent incidents in recent years. In October, a man was shot in the neck during a carjacking on the same block.
The park shooting was one of two fatal incidents in the city since Sunday night, as an unidentified man died after he was found shot in the city’s East Baltimore/Midway neighborhood.
The department wrote in a news release that officers were called to the 700 block of Bartlett Ave. at 12:14 a.m. for a ShotSpotter alert. While investigating, the officers found a man inside a car in the 2300 block of Homewood Ave. who’d been shot and involved in a car crash.
He was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries, police wrote.
The neighborhood has been on the city’s radar for revitalization for years and, in 2007, a group of community members from the East Baltimore/Midway and Barclay neighborhoods joined to form the Greater Greenmount Community Association.
Lowell Larsson, the nonprofit’s treasurer and resident agent, said vacant homes are a persistent issue in the area and could be serving as a catalyst for crime.
He said the group attempted to address the issue during former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration, when officials in the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development would meet with five communities identified as having been underserved in past years.
However, he said, that work slowed. When his group brought the city a list of about 50 properties it believed to be problematic due to their blighted nature and proximity to nearby residents, the city ultimately had to pare the list down to seven buildings, he said.
“Absolutely, vacancy and crime walk hand in hand,” Larsson said. “Certainly, vacant housing provides more of an opportunity for people to hide."
A 2018 report by Morgan State University found that despite much of the discussion that happened in the decade after the formation of the association, Midway continues to deteriorate.
While both the East Baltimore/Midway and Barclay communities continue to show "signs of decay and deterioration, the rate of decay in East Baltimore Midway has become an issue of major concern that calls for serious public and private investment,” the report reads.
The authors wrote that Midway’s 30% vacancy rate was nearly double the city’s average vacancy rate of 15.8% and the area experienced higher rates of homicide and assault than Baltimore did as a whole from 2012 through 2016.
“The high crime rates suggest a need for intervention and strategizing with the Baltimore City Police Department, East Baltimore Midway and Barclay community leaders, and surrounding communities in an effort to reduce crimes in the area,” the report reads.
Larsson said that while he understands the city is cash-strapped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its shrinking tax base because of its diminishing population, he still sees significant financial investment as the way to address the area’s underlying issues.
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“When you have a neighborhood in which the median price of a house is $20,000 and, a few blocks away the median price is $175,000 ... and you are a banker and you’re concerned about the bottom line, where are you going to put your money?” Larsson said.
“If we can do things about vacancy ... it really helps to have a place that has visual appeal,” he added.
Police ask anyone with information about the shootings to call 410-396-2100, leave tips anonymously at 1-866-756-2587 or send a text message to 443-902-4824.
Baltimore Sun reporters Phillip Jackson and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.