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Unrelenting anguish as the long list of Baltimore’s 2020 homicide victims is read aloud in memorial service

Marcus Strider Dent, left, of the Baltimore Guardian Angels, offers a hand to Cynthia Bruce as she climbs down the steps after reading a page of names of some of the 335 people killed in Baltimore in 2020 in an event Friday at the March Funeral Home.
Marcus Strider Dent, left, of the Baltimore Guardian Angels, offers a hand to Cynthia Bruce as she climbs down the steps after reading a page of names of some of the 335 people killed in Baltimore in 2020 in an event Friday at the March Funeral Home. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Cynthia Bruce keeps her slain son, Marcus Downer, in her heart — but even that isn’t close enough.

The retired schoolteacher wants everyone to know Downer’s name, including people who lacked the opportunity to meet him when he was alive.

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So she emblazoned her boy’s face on a T-shirt. There are the 23-year-old man’s hopeful eyes, his humorous smile above the dates of his birth and death: “Marcus Downer, 7/14/92 - 7/26/15.”

Downer was shot 19 times times in the 5500 block of Rubin Ave. on a hot July day after, Bruce said, an argument over a child’s stroller. No one has been arrested in the killing.

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Marcus Strider Dent, left, of the Baltimore Guardian Angels offers a hand to Cynthia Bruce as she climbs down the steps after reading a page of names of some of the 335 homicide victims in the year 2020 in Baltimore. She read the names in honor of her son, Marcus Downer, who was 23 when he was killed in 2015. The event was held at the March Funeral Home in Baltimore by MOMS (Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United), who read the names every year.
Marcus Strider Dent, left, of the Baltimore Guardian Angels offers a hand to Cynthia Bruce as she climbs down the steps after reading a page of names of some of the 335 homicide victims in the year 2020 in Baltimore. She read the names in honor of her son, Marcus Downer, who was 23 when he was killed in 2015. The event was held at the March Funeral Home in Baltimore by MOMS (Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United), who read the names every year. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Bruce wore the T-shirt on New Year’s Day to a ceremony organized by the grassroots organization MOMS, Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United. It is the 12th year in a row that MOMS has gathered to recite the names of all the men, women and children who were homicide victims in the city of Baltimore during the previous twelve months.

”This was never a group I wanted to become a member of,” Bruce told the dozen people attending the service at March Funeral Homes, East. “It is a group I was forced to become a member of. And every year this gets a little bit harder.”

As Bruce read the fourth page of the list of the 335 homicide victims of 2020, her voice cracked with emotion.

“This should be a list of graduations,” she said. “It should not be a list of homicide victims.”

Audrey Carter, left, and Victory Swift, right, listen as the names of 335 homicide victims are read Friday. Both women lost their sons to violence in the city and took part in the reading of the names at an event held by MOMS (Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United).
Audrey Carter, left, and Victory Swift, right, listen as the names of 335 homicide victims are read Friday. Both women lost their sons to violence in the city and took part in the reading of the names at an event held by MOMS (Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United). (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

MOMS was founded by Daphne Alston after her son, Tariq, was killed in Harford County in 2008.

There’s little comfort for MOMS members in knowing that 2020’s homicide total is 4% less than the 348 victims in 2019.

“This should be a list of graduations. It should not be a list of homicide victims.”


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Alston wishes that a scant fraction of the resources devoted in the past year to developing a vaccine for COVID-19 had been used instead to combat gun violence.

“Every day,” she said, “the government announces the numbers of people who have died from the pandemic. But they don’t list the numbers of people who died on the streets. That is not acceptable to us.”

As devastating as the pandemic has been, Alston suspects it could have a silver lining. “As bad as COVID has been,” she said, “it meant that people could sit home with their kids and have conversations they needed to have.”

Those conversations can be difficult, she said, but they can save lives.

”We have to keep our children from paying a debt,” she said, “that they don’t even owe.”

Participants at the service say they haven’t given up.

Attendee Mark Cannon is involved in Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s oldest Black fraternity, which has taken as its mission helping troubled young men. Fraternity brothers spend nights and weekends handing out face masks, driving young men to job interviews and doing whatever it takes to help them survive.

But Cannon’s efforts couldn’t save his wife’s nephew, Yohannes Carr, 31, who was fatally shot Aug. 6 in the 2400 block of Etting St. John Brown, 21, has been charged in connection with the slaying.

”Yohannes was married,” Cannon said, “the father of two. He was getting ready to start a new job the next day. He wasn’t armed, and he was murdered in cold blood.”

Likewise, Bruce devoted her entire professional life — 32 years — to educating children to help them escape the cycle of poverty and violence.

When it came to raising her own three boys, she followed all the rules. Marcus attended Baltimore School for the Arts and dreamed of acting professionally.

“I raised my sons as best I could,” Bruce said. “I raised them the way society wanted me to raise them. I taught them not to become parents until they were ready.”

In retrospect, she almost wishes she’d encouraged Marcus to behave a little more irresponsibly.

“If Marcus had fathered a child, perhaps, today, I would have his legacy to kiss, love, hug and touch,” she said.

“It would be hard. But at least it would be something for me to hold onto.”

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