'It feels like I’m locked up in a cage': Friends of Amy Hayes plead for safer streets in West Baltimore

Amiya Garris crawled on hands and knees to her mother’s bedroom Monday night. “Mommy, Mommy, I heard gunshots,” she said.

Just 24 hours later, Amiya and her mother walked through their neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester on a crime walk also attended by Mayor Catherine Pugh, high-ranking officials in the Baltimore Police Department, clergy and community activists.

They were there as a show of support for Garris’ friend, Amy Hayes, the 5-year-old girl who had been injured in the burst of gunfire. But they were also there as a continued plea to improve the safety of Baltimore’s notoriously dangerous city streets.

Growing up in Sandtown-Winchester, children like Amiya are afraid to go outside. “It feels like I’m locked up in a cage,” she said.

When they hear shots, as they often do, they lock the doors and turn off the lights.

“It’s sad,” said Miracle Dunbar, age 8. She wore fuzzy white earmuffs in the cold November air. “It’s a lot of shootings around here.”

Amy had been on her way to the corner store Monday night when she shot in the groin, caught in a crossfire between unknown gunmen. Police say she is expected to survive.

On Tuesday, Timeka Patterson stood in the middle of Monroe Street, asking drivers to honk their horns in support as they drove south. She held up a sign saying “Prayers for Amy,” with a doll and a toy attached — gifts she intends to give Amy when she’s released from the hospital.

While the crowd meandered through the neighborhood, a few residents stepped out to their front steps to survey the scene. As many houses as not were vacant, boarded up and crumbling. Trash piled up in vacant lots and plastic bags blew by like tumbleweeds, even though people from the city had come out to clean up before the mayor arrived, Earl Watkins said.

“They just walk around for show,” Watkins said, referring to the officials. “They just talk. They don’t do nothing.”

Others were just as skeptical. Standing outside the house where Amy lives with her great-grandmother, Tyshawn Coleman, 25, said that while he was sad for the girl, he wonders why other shootings don’t draw crime walks and media attention.

“You think if I was shot you think they gonna make it their business to find out who the shooter, who the killer was?” he asked.

The Rev. Grey Maggiano of Memorial Episcopal Church said that while the everyday violence of Baltimore merits more attention, the young girl’s shooting had been particularly painful. He thought of his own 6-year-old daughter at home. The shooting, he said, “should shock the conscience, and hopefully wake up the moral center of the city.”

News of Amy’s shooting, exactly four months after the death of her older sister, Taylor Hayes, had shocked Marquea Braxton. Braxton, 38, says she considers Amy part of her family; her daughters often play with her.

“What’s the odds of something like that happening?” she said. She was frustrated by people online who seemed to blame the girls’ parents for not protecting them. “No parent, no nothing can stop a stray bullet.”

Though Braxton grew up in Sandtown, the family now lives in Edmondson Village, near where Taylor Hayes was fatally shot in July. “I can’t win for losing,” Braxton said. “I keep my kids in the house. I know they be mad at me.” But it’s for their own good.

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