Many of us can ignore the violence that plagues our city or at least separate ourselves from it. It happens in other neighborhoods to people we don’t know. This week, it became impossible for me to remove myself after the death of one of the students in our Grads2Careers program. He was shot and killed while walking down North Broadway, just a few blocks from Hopkins Hospital. He was left to die on the concrete in the shadow of new development and fancy buildings. He was as close as you can be, but still miles away from the opportunities those spaces provide.
I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Dimetric before his death, and now I will always regret that. I didn’t get one of his famous hugs or hear his amazing laugh remembered by so many. I didn’t get to congratulate him on graduating from high school, on enrolling in a summer academic program at the University of Baltimore or wish him luck in the construction training program that he was slated to start two days after his murder.
Through social media I found information on a vigil for Dimetric held on Thursday, organized by his cousin and friends. My colleagues and I arrived and waited for his family.
Someone came with candles, and we got to work spelling out Dimetric’s name on the concrete still stained with his blood from a few days before. We lit the candles and held one another — friends and strangers. Together, we prayed for peace and forgiveness, and began to cry.
One of Dimetric’s family members announced that we were going to release balloons. As the blue, silver and white balloons floated away, tears rolled down my cheeks. I shook my head thinking that this young man’s life has been reduced to balloons in the sky and that such street corner vigils are all too routine for too many in that crowd and across the city. We have allowed this to happen.
As the group of about 50 stood together in that moment of shared reflection, gunshots came from behind us. I heard screams. I looked around and started to run. I realized I wouldn’t make it to the safety of the building in front of me, so I dove down, landing hard on top of the concrete, broken glass and melted wax from the candles. Within a few seconds, I realized the gunshots had stopped, but the screaming had not. Someone else had been shot and was lying on the corner.
I pulled myself up and searched for my colleagues and friends. I saw a little girl with a t-shirt on from a nearby elementary school. I ran to her and held her as she shook and cried out “why?” over and over again.
Police, helicopters, fire engines and ambulances started flooding the area. We were told we should leave, so my group did. Because we could. As I drove away with my friend, both of us in tears — afraid, sad and angry — she reminded me that we got to go home while most of those at the vigil already were.
On my way home, I called my partners to make sure they were OK. I called my board chair so he knew I was OK. I called my colleague at city schools to make sure she knew what happened and could alert school staff to support the students who had been there. When I got home, I kissed my husband and snuggled my kids, took a shower and covered my wounds with Neosporin. Everything will heal.
Today, my body is sore, and my heart is heavy. I am angry that we have collectively, through our actions and inactions, decided that there is some number of black and brown lives that we have written off, that their deaths are expected. Where is the anger? The urgency?
Are you angry? If not, ask yourself this: What if Dimetric were white? Now ask yourself why that makes a difference. Sit with the answer, then open your mind and your heart and demand better.
We cannot wait another minute to make this city safe for everyone and to create equitable opportunities for black and brown youth, adults and communities. We are still fighting at the state level to provide our students the resources they deserve, including health and mental health resources, as if we need to justify the effects of concentrated poverty and structural racism. We are fighting to make changes to a broken system, when the whole system needs to be reimagined.
Efforts such as Baltimore Ceasefire have worked hard to connect us, but to paraphrase the organizer, Erricka Bridgeford, the majority of us remain “numb” while black and brown children are being shot and killed in our city.
Shame on us all.
Julia K. Baez (Julia@baltimorespromise.org) is executive director of Baltimore's Promise.