The shooting of two Baltimore youths on a city street in broad daylight Wednesday, leaving one dead, continues a deadly and disturbing month in which teenagers increasingly have become victims of the gun violence.
Police identified the victim as Jaheem Atkins, 16, the fifth teenager to be fatally shot in the past two weeks. The person with him, a 12-year-old boy, survived the shooting in the Franklintown Road neighborhood, police said.
So far this year 31 people under the age of 20 have become victims of homicide, according to the Baltimore Sun database, including five of the past seven victims. Politicians, city leaders and advocates said Friday that the continuing assault on young people cannot be accepted as business as usual.
Caryn York, CEO of the Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore, lives not far from the where Atkins was killed and said the city needs less talk and more efforts to get guns off the streets.
“Whenever we hear these stories, we immediately pivot to this idea of ‘Black on Black’ crime," York said. “It is easier for young people in West Baltimore where the young man was killed to get a gun than it is to get food.”
Beyond the increasing numbers are the personal stories of those killed, and the impact on those left behind.
One of Atkins' former teachers, Meredith Brown, heard the news and mourned his life on her Facebook page. Brown had taught Atkins while he was in the second and third grade attending Alexander Hamilton Elementary School, she said.
She said he was a student she and other teachers could never forget, and his death hit to close to home for her.
“He was extremely bright, sometimes mischievous, and he had a sophisticated sense of humor,” Brown said. “Jaheem loved his brother, sister and mother, and adored many of his teachers.”
A vigil was to be held for Atkins at 7 p.m. Friday near where the shooting took place, according to Angela Atkins, his mother.
Elected officials in the city are working to find solutions but say the city has a long way to go.
“It is easier for young people in West Baltimore where the young man was killed to get a gun than it is to get food.”— Caryn York, Job Opportunities Task Force
City Councilman John Bullock, who presides over the 9th District where Atkins was shot, said the pattern of violence in communities often leads back to lack of opportunity and resources.
“It speaks to some of the challenges in our communities," Bullock said. “You have a community that is going through a number of challenges, like abandoned houses and drug trafficking going on, and unfortunately some of our young people have been caught up in it.”
York has a firsthand view of the problem as a resident and as head of an organization providing opportunities for city youth. She said nothing will change without a concerted effort to address the “infiltration of guns in our communities.”
The neighborhoods that have suffered greatly from gun violence in Baltimore have been “intentionally” ignored for years, York said, and until they are made a priority with local investment nothing will change.
“What is going to follow is, you will see policy makers push for tough on crime laws and they do nothing to lower crime," York said. "But, what they do is lock more Black people up.”
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This has been a violent week in Baltimore. On Tuesday, a 37-year-old woman was shot in the neck in West Baltimore and Thursday alone nine people were shot and one of them, 18-years-old, was killed.
So far this year there have been a total of 266 homicides, Baltimore police said Friday, down from the 278 at this point last year as the city was on its way to its deadliest year on record. Non-fatal shootings also have dipped, from 652 to 610.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story of the challenges facing young people in the city. In late May, the killing of 16-year-old Ala’junaye Davis devastated her family and classmates. She was an honors student at National Academy Foundation High School and loved dancing and was described as “studious and naturally gifted.”
A month later, Shiand Miller, 23, who was pregnant at the time, and her 3-year-old daughter were gunned down and left in a car for nearly 14 hours.
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott called the continuing violence unacceptable, and said that fixing the problem will require a team effort, not just the work of law enforcement.
“Our systems don’t work in the best interest of our young people, and we have to change that," Scott said. “This is about systems failures at multiple levels, and these unfortunate incidents make it clear that we need nothing short of a full system reboot.
"Changing this will take more than law enforcement,” Scott said. "We have to look at every single city and state agency to understand how we invest in young people and families in Baltimore, so they can grow to be the best version of themselves and achieve the highest level of potential.”