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As more youth come into the crosshairs of Baltimore’s street shootings, city leaders and activists seek solutions

Relentless violence has pushed Baltimore to 190 homicides so far this year and 380 nonfatal shootings ― both worse than a year ago ― and has city officials and community leaders once again scrambling to find solutions. But Monday night, residents and activists gathered with an even more urgent call: Find a way to protect the city’s children.

So far this year, 25 youths ages 18 and under have been shot, an increase of more than 50% from 2020. Ten youths have been homicide victims, compared with eight a year ago, including deaths not caused by gunfire. Five children were struck by gunfire in less than a week in March.

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Most recently, two boys, 14 and 15, were wounded by gunfire in the city’s Upton neighborhood in early July. Both were hospitalized and survived what was described as an attack.

A prayer and candlelight vigil for peace and healing brought supporters Monday evening to 1420 W. Lafayette Ave., and to the corner of North and Fulton avenues for a community walk.

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Lisa Molock of Let’s Thrive Baltimore, an anti-gun violence organization helping Baltimore families and youth, addressed the crowd from the Harlem Park and Sandtown-Winchester community garden. The garden sits across Lafayette Avenue from Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, and kids fill the playgrounds and streets daily. It is just minutes away from the Penn North neighborhood, which has been beset by by shootings and increased drug activity.

Molock talked about her personal experiences with gun violence, including a time when she was just a teenager and a gun went off in the car she was riding in. She didn’t even know there was one in the car, she said.

It’s time, she said, for people to stop doing things that put other people’s lives in danger.

“I know the work I am doing is what God has put me here to do,” Molock shouted to the crowd of nearly 70 people Monday night. “I wouldn’t be here today if that was not true.”

Monday’s vigils and demonstrations were supported by other anti-gun violence groups such as Baltimore Ceasefire365 and We Our Us. Activists marched through the streets in the city’s Penn North neighborhood.

Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen attended the Harlem Park neighborhood rally and said the time has come for the community to be presented solutions.

“Tonight was a power show of unity. All these different organizations were standing by our young people,” Cohen said. “I think too often our city can get cut up and divided, everyone running in directions. To see people coming together to stand against gun violence, that is the type of work it is going to take to change our city.”

Molock led the crowd in another prayer after her youth workers, huddled in small circles and holding candles toward the sky, read the names of those who had lost their lives to gun violence in Baltimore.

“Mayor Scott has declared time and again that children are Baltimore’s most valuable asset,” said Cal Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott, in a statement. “The mayor aspires to build a Baltimore where our youth can realize their potential, and is working collaboratively to tackle the flow of guns into our neighborhoods.

“The Mayor has ordered every City agency to play a role in confronting Baltimore’s painful legacy of gun violence, and he continues to prioritize our youth by investing in recreation facilities and essential youth employment opportunities,” Harris wrote.

Even before the July shootings, the city had seen several children survive close calls. In April, Kodi Shaw, just 5 years old, was grazed by a bullet while he was sitting in a bathtub in the city’s Carrollton Ridge neighborhood. The bullet startled the family and had them questioning whether they could stay in the neighborhood.

The Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore, like others in the city, suffers from abandoned homes and drug trafficking.

In February, the strength and bravery of 10-year-old Kaelin Washington captured the hearts of many after she was shot and seriously injured but managed to walk home before collapsing. Baltimore Police said she had been struck by a stray bullet fired by fighting groups of young men blocks away.

The fourth grader suffered a punctured lung, fractured rib and emotional trauma, her family said.

Kaelin Washington, 10, wound up in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital after being shot Feb. 27. She has undergone rehabilitation.
Kaelin Washington, 10, wound up in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital after being shot Feb. 27. She has undergone rehabilitation. (Courtesy of Jasmine Ramsey)

Caryn York, a member of the Job Opportunities Task Force in West Baltimore, said many neighborhoods have been long ignored and now the issues of gun violence affect the daily lives of young people living there.

York said many young people get caught up in crime because of a longtime lack of investment in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.

“You have generations who are unemployed and underemployed,” York said. “Instead of investing in opportunities and asset building, we instead invest in all the tools that facilitate the criminalization of our Black bodies starting at a very young age. We are treating our babies like adults.”

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