Aleasha Bowie was recuperating at her East Baltimore home from a surgical procedure Thursday morning when she heard the shots.
She screamed for her brother, who was just about to leave for work, then rushed to the front of the house to peer out the window, she said. On the corner outside, she saw a young man — someone she’d watched grow up in the neighborhood — slumped on the street.
The 21-year-old man, whom police did not identify, was the 319th homicide victim in the city in 2017; raising the total beyond the 318 killings that occurred in Baltimore in all of 2016.
That means this year is now Baltimore’s second-deadliest on record on a per-capita basis, with a month left to go. The record was set in 2015, when there were 344 homicides.
Bowie, 40, immediately thought of the man’s mother, she said. Then she thought of her own children, who often play in the playground just feet from where the gunfire had erupted.
“I got four good kids. I’m trying to have them make it out of here,” Bowie said shortly after noon, about an hour after police responded to the 1800 block of Aiken St. in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood.
More than a half-dozen evidence markers sat on the sidewalk, a coat crumpled on the ground, as homicide detectives and crime scene technicians worked.
“We at a bad spot in this city,” Bowie said from steps just inside the yellow police tape surrounding the crime scene. “We at a bad spot.”
Moments before, another woman had come running up to the tape screaming. Police moved to intercept her, and she dropped to her knees on the sidewalk. A friend pulled her up, and she wailed as they walked down the street holding onto each other.
The shooting followed the discovery Wednesday night of a man’s body in a burning vacant house in the 3000 block of Rayner Ave. in West Baltimore’s Franklintown Road neighborhood. That death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy Thursday determined the man had been shot, police said.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has called the violence “out of control” and vowed to increase the police force to 3,000 sworn officers as quickly as possible — hundreds more than there are now — but recruiting cadets and putting them through the police academy takes time.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis repeated on Thursday his now-frequent calls for harsher penalties for repeat gun offenders, citing the arrest of a man on attempted first-degree murder and other charges on Thursday in relation to an incident Wednesday night, in which an officer was shot in the hand after stopping the man on a street in Cherry Hill.
The man, identified as Allen Hosea Johnson Jr., 35, was forbidden to have a firearm because of previous convictions, Davis said. He could not be reached for comment, and did not have an attorney listed in online court records.
Body-camera footage from the incident showed the officer, who was not identified, reach for what police said was a gun in Johnson’s waistband before a struggle ensued, and another officer used his Taser to subdue Johnson.
On the East Lafayette Avenue steps where she sat a half-block from the evidence markers, Bowie said whatever changes police need to make to stem the violence should occur soon.
“I just think they should do more,” she said. “I’m not saying get out the car and harass everybody, but you can check the corner. Just ask questions.”
Curtis Washington, 53, said the city’s older generation must help police turn the city around instead of growing weary and ceding the city to the violence.
“This is the time to really step up,” Washington said. “Some of these elders say, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’ But that’s leaving the youth behind.”
Another man who lingered at the scene, and who would give his name only as David, said he is 48 years old and “tired of the killing.”
He used to deal drugs, he said, until he “threw in the towel” after he had a double-barreled shotgun stuck in his mouth and a .357 handgun pressed against his head 13 years ago.
“I had to wake up, because I want my kids to have a father,” he said.
Now, he’s as scared for his three daughters — and other children in the neighborhood — as he used to be for himself, he said.
“Anybody’s kids want to come out and play,” he said, “they might get caught up in a crossfire over some stupid stuff.”