The devil takes all in Baltimore

The first time Amy Hayes’ name appeared in The Baltimore Sun was in July, when she was listed as the little sister of 7-year-old Taylor, who had been murdered in a drug-related drive-by shooting. The next time was Nov. 20 after Amy herself had been gunned down, apparently caught in a crossfire as she walked to a corner store for juice.

While 5-year-old Amy did not join the 12 children who have been homicide victims this year (as of Monday’s census), she does join the ranks of the traumatized thousands among us — children and adults.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, like many of us, was “outraged” at the brazen reminder of our failure to make the streets safe for the children. But some folks were frustrated that it took this incident for the mayor to lead a march with community members and police officers.

“I think that walk should have happened when we reached 100 murders in the city — or 50 for that matter,” said Millie Brown, the founder of one of too many support and advocacy groups that have sprung up to aid families of the thousands of homicide victims we have buried since the start of the 21st century.

As of this writing, Baltimore has witnessed 279 homicides in 2018, as well as hundreds of shootings and stabbings that keep area trauma centers busy.

Back in 1991, when 6-year-old Tiffany Smith was gunned down, the city’s outrage was familiar.

“We have to find strength within ourselves to make sure her death has not been in vain,” then-Rep. Kweisi Mfume said.

The community dedicated Tiffany Square at Rosedale Street and Westwood Avenue, where she was slain. But 20 years later, after drug dealers had made it their center of commerce, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rededicated the space, again vowing a crackdown on crime.

Skip to 2013, when we were outraged anew by the fatal shooting of 1-year-old Carter Scott, who caught the bullets most likely meant for his father.

In 2014, we mourned 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott, who was gunned down on her grandmother’s porch on Old York Road. In her memory. McKenzie Elliott Way was dedicated this summer — not long after 7-year-old Taylor Hayes was killed.

Rev. Willie Ray was at Tiffany’s funeral in 1991. At the time, the anti-violence crusader declared: “The violence must stop. ... We can't let a handful of hoodlums take over our city."

He was also at Taylor’s funeral in July.

And so it goes.

We’re good at sending thoughts and prayers, picking up funeral costs, donating food — and naming places in honor of dead children. But then we hit a snag every time.

Just what will it take?

A grassroots anti-violence campaign has taken shape, led mainly by women — Survivors Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), Sisters Saving the City, Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, Ms. Brown’s A Mother’s Cry, even the Baltimore Ceasefire movement. But these efforts can only go so far.

If all the Ph.D.’s among us — preachers, sociologists, health researchers, criminologists, urban planners — join forces with graduates of the university of the streets, perhaps we might devise a way out of this ever-repeating, never-ending cycle of violence. This requires more than the short-term law enforcement-focused initiatives that will likely be launched by the latest mayoral appointee as police commissioner.

The long-range solutions lie in the kind of ideas I’m hearing from the women warriors and from folks like the Rev. Alvin Hathaway. He wants to address problems such as toxic housing and joblessness, but knows that a vital resource is often shunned: “the persons in our community who find themselves immersed in the culture of violence.” He wants to bring them to the table to “turn the conversation around.”

In this city chock full of places of worship, some of us, like Mr. Hathaway, also rely on prayer for answers. Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has asked its local members to fast and pray this Sunday “for the purpose of seeking God’s blessing upon our city.” That same day, Mr. Hathaway’s Union Baptist Church will host an interfaith prayer service from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 1219 Druid Hill Avenue.

At Taylor Hayes’ funeral, one of the eulogists, the Rev. Stephen Lawrence, assembled all the children in attendance on stage and declared: “The devil will not have our kids.”

Unfortunately, until the marchers’ post-violence cries of “Whose streets? Our streets!” actually begin to mean something, the devil’s in control.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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