Escaping a troubled Baltimore childhood, Markel Jackson thrived in the nurturing environment of a Prince George’s County shelter for young adults.
He nearly had enough credits to graduate from high school and a small North Carolina college offered him a football scholarship, said Robert Bell, the program director at Promise Place in Capitol Heights, which provides support for neglected youth and teens. But, despite Bell’s pleading, Jackson dropped out of the program in March 2016 and returned to Baltimore.
“He had so much potential," Bell said. “The biggest thing that hurt him is where his roots were.”
Last weekend, those roots apparently killed him.
Jackson, 24, was shot to death Saturday afternoon, one of six people killed in Baltimore’s latest weekend of violence, and one of 38 killed in the city in July. Since Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered while in police custody and the subsequent unrest, only two months have been deadlier in the city — July 2015 when 45 were killed and May 2015 when there were 42 homicides.
It’s part of a distressing pattern as the city closes in on 200 homicides in 2019. Just five years ago, in 2014, Baltimore recorded 211 killings for the entire year. It hasn’t been under 300 in any year since.
Colonel Richard Worley, the chief of patrol for Baltimore Police, said Monday that he is “frustrated” by events but vowed the city will see declines in violence in the coming months under new deployment strategies.
“By the end of the year, we’ll have things turned around,” Worley said. “Our officers are working their butts off."
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who took over as commissioner in February, recently unveiled a plan designed to curb the city’s violence. It calls for a more intense police presence in high-crime areas and an emphasis on accountability for his officers.
There are signs the new strategy is affecting criminal behavior, if not immediately stemming the violence.
Of the six killed and six others shot this past weekend, investigators believe the new deployments caused shooters and victims — at least in some cases — to move away from their entrenched areas to other, less patrolled spots. Eventually, police said, the disruption will lead to less crime.
Worley said the department has other tools at its disposal, such as a mobile metro unit that police call a roving 10th district. Those officers are deployed based on ongoing evaluations of crime trends. The department also relies on plainclothes officers, known as District Action Teams.
Police said they are making progress toward making arrests in the most recent shootings.
“We have good leads in the majority of the cases," Worley said.
Investigators are close to serving an arrest warrant in one case, and have located surveillance video in several others, he said.
The city’s weekend shooting spree began early Friday morning.
A ShotSpotter alert around 1:33 a.m. sent officers to the 1700 block of N. Carey St., where they found Calvin Carter suffering from a gunshot to the head. Medics pronounced him dead on the scene, and police have not identified a motive or a suspect.
Carter’s mother, Annette Conway, said Monday that she remains in shock and just wants answers.
“It’s hard. He was a loving young man,” said Conway, a housekeeper who previously buried her mother and a daughter, who died of an illness. Calvin was the first member of her family lost to violence.
On Monday, she drove to the spot on North Carey where her son was killed but didn’t stay long. She had to get to the funeral home to begin making arrangements.
Then she had to meet the homicide detective investigating Calvin’s death.
Her son’s death has yet to fully sink in, but Conway thinks it will when she finally sees his body.
She last saw her son alive Thursday afternoon when she got home from work. He sometimes stayed at her house when he wasn’t with his girlfriend. He told her he loved her, as he always did before leaving.
“It’s young people getting killed," she said of the violence. “It’s terrible."
In addition to Jackson and Carter, gray, 27, was killed in a shooting that left another man injured Saturday night in East Baltimore.
About 10 minutes later, a 19-year-old man, whose name has not yet been released, died in a shooting that also injured a 17-year-old near 3700 Boarman Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.
Just before 4 p.m. Sunday, Johnny Johnson, 24, was killed just south of North Avenue in West Baltimore. Several hours later, gunfire killed Steven Tasker, 39, in West Forest Park.
Jackson’s death near 1700 McHenry St. came as a shock to Bell, the youth facility program manager, who recalled how the young man managed to overcome his circumstances and was once on track to go to college. The story of his turnaround had been featured in The Washington Post.
In the 2015 article, Jackson spoke about how he was lured into drug dealing at the age of 11 when a dealer offered him $50. It was big money for a young boy who grew up surrounded by violence and drugs and was raised by family members because his own mother suffered from addiction issues.
“I already knew if I was going back to Baltimore, I was either going to go back to jail for life, someone was going to kill me or I was going to kill someone,” Jackson was quoted at the time. “That’s the type of lifestyle I was living.”
Online court records show Jackson had been charged with drug-related offenses before and after his stay at the shelter. He was found guilty of drug charges in late 2017 and, in April, he was found to have violated his probation because he illegally had a firearm.
But Jackson had no such problems at Promise Place, Bell recalled. He woke up early every day to run 5 miles and complete chores that each youth had to do at the facility. If another student failed to complete his task, Bell said, Jackson would jump in and do the work.
Jackson also aimed to finish high school, prompting Bell to work with Prince George’s County school officials to evaluate his school records and determine that he was indeed eligible to graduate. He just needed a few additional credits, Bell said.
Despite his progress, Jackson still felt the tug of Baltimore and kept trying to return, Bell said.
Bell took Jackson back to Baltimore shortly after the 2015 unrest, for a family member’s funeral. Bell remembers that though Jackson had extensive roots in the city, he had no one in Baltimore to steer him in the right direction. At one point, Bell said he considered bringing Jackson into his own home.
"I understood why the judge [from an earlier arrest] didn’t want him going to Baltimore, but he kept going back to his demise,” Bell said.
While Jackson was completing his final year of high school, he was free to leave the youth facility and wanted to move in with a girlfriend in the Glen Burnie area.
“I could not convince him to stay," Bell said.
Jackson recently stopped at the shelter to visit to his old mentor. Bell recalled how happy Jackson seemed as he introduced his girlfriend and their 10-month-old child.
“He was so proud,” Bell recalled.
But Bell said he remained uneasy even then, worrying about the young man’s future in a city he couldn’t seem to leave — and never will.