Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison holds a news conference about the three people killed in Baltimore last night.
Down York Road, not far from the intersection of East 43rd Street where three men were fatally shot and another seriously injured during a late-night shooting Monday, Lisa Jones asked anyone who will listen to bring an end to the city’s violence.
On the 500 block of East 43rd St., the crime scene tape and bloodstains have largely been cleaned up from the residential homes that police had combed over the night before, looking for clues to why the four men were shot inside a North Baltimore home. Customers were already back at the 43rd Flavor Barber Shop and Beauty Salon at the corner of the street by Tuesday afternoon, not 1,000 feet away from where the shooting occurred.
Jones, the director of Safe Streets Baltimore for the city’s Woodbourne neighborhood, had a simple message that she yelled over a speaker outside on York Road, as other speakers spoke about piercing through a sentiment that the city has become numb to the violence.
“It is not acceptable for us to shoot each other," she yelled into the microphone, eventually leading a gathered group of about 50 people in chant as drivers honked their horns as they passed by.
“It is unacceptable for us to hurt each other. No more mothers should lose their children,” she said.
Safe Streets Director Dedra Layne speaks about the triple homicide on the 500 block of E. 43rd St that took place Monday evening.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 348 people had been killed and more than twice as many hurt in shootings in Baltimore in 2019. The city recorded its highest murder rate per capita this year, and homicide detectives have struggled to solve the cases, clearing less than a third of them, one of the unit’s lowest success rates in three decades. The city was also nearing the all-time record of 353 homicides from 1993.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Tuesday that responding officers located three men suffering from gunshot wounds inside a home in the 500 block of East 43rd St., off Greenmount Avenue, in the North Baltimore neighborhood of Wilson Park. Two men were pronounced dead at the scene, while a third man was taken to an area hospital where he died. The fourth victim, who is in serious but stable condition, arrived at a hospital with gunshot wounds about 10 minutes after the shooting, police said.
Police said that all of the victims were shot inside a home, “which means the perpetrator was likely known in some way to the victims and was allowed entry into the residence," Harrison said at a news conference at police headquarters Tuesday morning. He said he did not know how the victims knew each other, but responding officers found no evidence of forced entry.
At the Safe Streets rally on York Road, those gathered discussed what they knew about the victims, if anything, as speakers looked to address a culture of violence that’s increasing to record highs.
“We have to send a message, loud and strong. And the message is violence is not normal,” said Dedra Layne, director of Safe Streets Baltimore.
“We all have the capacity to love somebody, and that’s the thing we’re not talking about, but that’s the thing that’s required,” she added.
City police said 44 other homicides this year occurred inside a home, which Harrison said generally indicates the perpetrators were likely to be known to their victims. The majority of the killings — 204 — occurred on the street, according to department figures.
Harrison has regularly pointed to the city’s culture of violence where shooters feel they have few consequences and readily solve disputes by picking up a gun.
“This problem by in large are between people who know each other and are solving their conflicts in this kind of way, with gun violence,” he said.
While no suspects have yet been identified, Harrison assured that detectives were working to collect all possible evidence, and has asked anyone with information to call homicide detectives.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison reflects on the past year's violence in the city, and discusses crime fighting strategies for 2020.
Amid the rising relentless violence, and the additional challenges brought by implementing reforms required by a federal consent decree, Harrison has become a regular target of the police officers’ union.
“Yesterday’s Mayoral press conference is just another example of how out of touch this administration has become. This is not the first year we have had over 300 homicides,” leaders of the police officers union wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
The union leaders also bemoaned the decline in the department’s ranks.
“Our patrol ranks remain hundreds of officers short and our detectives are handling caseloads that would make law enforcement experts gasp if they knew the volume,” they said.
When asked about the criticism Tuesday, Harrison agreed with the union on some concerns, including a manpower shortage, which he said they are working to address.
“I remain laser focused on providing the leadership the men and women of this department and the citizens of this city need and deserve,” he said.
The city and police department have launched an aggressive marketing campaign to attract new officers. Harrison said previously the department has seen a sustained spike in applications but those candidates have not yet gone through the hiring process, and it’s unclear whether the campaign will bring new, qualified officers.
Harrison also previously said the department has transferred 12 new detectives to homicide to help reduce caseloads to help improve the clearance rate, which is just 32%, which is lower than previous years for the department and the national average for cities of a similar size.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso said in a separate statement that the clearance rate has dropped because the use of criminal informants has “dropped drastically.”
Mancuso said fewer informants are used because prosecutors are charging fewer misdemeanor and some drug-related felonies, which have been used as leverage in larger cases.
Police face an uphill battle getting witnesses to cooperate because they are fearful of retribution and distrust police. Many of this year’s homicide victims, according to the department’s statistics, have been arrested in the past. About 150 of all the victims have been arrested for gun crimes and more than 130 have been previously arrested for violent crimes. About a third of the city’s victims, according to police, have belonged to a drug crew or gang.
Harrison said he believes that when the department improves its community engagement efforts, it will encourage witnesses to come to police with information, and help investigators to close cases. Making homicide arrests will get those committing violence off the street and serve as a deterrent to others, he said.
At the quadruple shooting scene on East 43rd Street, tinsel, garland, Christmas lights and red bows decorated the porches of several nearby houses.
A 54-year-old man who lives around the corner on York Road said he awoke to the sound of a barrage of gunshots late Monday and rolled out of bed and onto the floor for cover.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“It sounded like it was coming straight to my room,” said the man, who declined to give his name out of concern for his safety. “It’s just crazy.”
Wendell Stewart, 57, who lives on the other end of the block on East 43rd Street, hadn’t heard the gunfire. But he walked past a pair of purple paramedic’s gloves left on the sidewalk on his way to catch a bus Tuesday morning.
Stewart said he remembered a shooting nearby in 2016, when five people were shot during a Memorial Day cookout. Still, the latest multiple shooting, down the street from his front door, was a stark reminder of this year’s persistent violence.
“It’s surprising, so close to home,” he said.
Jim Mullen, 53, who lives a few blocks away from the shooting scene, said he’s seen the neighborhood deteriorate over the last 10 years.