Dear Governor Hogan,
I am writing in my capacity as pastor of the First & Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. For the past year, our congregation has set aside part of our weekly worship to remember those who have lost their lives to gun violence. Each week, we have held up purple ribbons as we prayed, each ribbon representing a life lost to gun violence in Baltimore. We have prayed. We have grieved. And now we are moving those prayers out of the sanctuary, into the street and finally to our elected officials.
I am also writing as a member of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development). First & Franklin and BUILD leaders and organizers plan to be in Annapolis Thursday to present to the legislature — and the larger state of Maryland — the 343 purple ribbons representing the number of people killed in 2017 as a result of gun violence in our city.
According to the most recent statistics, violent murders fell in the largest U.S. cities: New York saw just 290 murders (in 1990 they had 2,245 murders); Los Angeles saw 281 (in 1992 they experienced 1,094 killings); even Chicago, which has been horrifically violent, saw a decline in its number of killings. By contrast, Baltimore: We set a grim new record for killings per capita.
The vast majority of the dead are young black men. One of them, Jonathan “Johnny” Tobash, was a student at Morgan State University. This paper ran a picture of him from his prom night in 2016, dressed in a smart suit, a carnation on his lapel. Imagine, if you can, the hours before this picture was taken, as he got ready for this special night. What do you think he thought about that evening? I learned recently that Johnny thought he might be in love. Now, all that he was, all that he hoped for, all that he felt in the chambers of the human heart is in danger of being summed up in one disgraceful number: 335.
That is not right. We refuse to let that be the story of Jonathan Tobash and the other 342 people killed in Baltimore last year.
But we can't do it without leadership and legislative action. According to criminologists, one common denominator for cities that have experienced a reduction in killings is police departments that focus "on building relationships with residents." Successful police departments are adopting a social service model: police walking children to school, offering after school programs, employing more foot patrols.
We have heard there is talk about getting tough on crime, perhaps not unlike the way New York and Los Angeles police departments "flooded the streets with officers, stopped and arrested thousands" in the first decade of 2000. One officer said that it was the "invading army model" — we believe this is the wrong answer. And so do many police and city officials: These actions, they say, suppressed crime "but it was a temporary fix that alienated minority communities."
Most importantly, Baltimore is not New York and it is not L.A. We live in a post-Freddie Gray world; a community that is tired and exhausted with police brutality and corruption. We don't want the "invading army model" of law enforcement.
Baltimore's troubles are inextricably linked to economic inequity, under-funded public schools, the crisis of trust between the Baltimore police department and our citizens, the opioid epidemic, systemic racism and the still lingering devastation caused by redlining.
We would like to hear you respond to the cries of Baltimore’s oppressed and dispossessed. We’ve heard the voices of mothers grieving. But now we want to hear from you. We demand leadership from your office, from Mayor Catherine Pugh and from the state legislature. We have had enough of beautiful prayers and weeping mothers. We want meaningful legislation. We are weary of violence. The violence of the streets, but also violence of inequity, racism,and economic disparity.
What is going to change for 2018? What is your plan? As a faith community that cares deeply for this city, we want to hear directly from you what your plan is to make redemptive change happen.
Rev. Robert P. Hoch (email@example.com) is pastor of the First & Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.