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A hot line for guys at risk on weekends

The weekend started well, with the Ken Harris jury coming back with guilty verdicts after seven days of deliberations that made everyone suspect the three defendants were going to walk.

Police, prosecutors and forensics experts put together a case strong enough to get convictions of young men who wore masks when they set out to commit their crimes. The alternative would have been shocking even in hard-to-shock Baltimore: Jurors acquitting the accused killers of a well-liked, public-spirited man during the armed robbery of a popular jazz club in a solid, middle-class part of town.

Whatever took them so long — confusion over DNA evidence, lack of clarity on which coward fired the shot that struck Ken Harris in the back — the jurors decided that Jerome Williams and Charles McGaney committed murder and that an accomplice, Gary Collins, committed other felonies associated with this senseless killing.

So the weekend started well, without the jury nullification of good police work that would have made Baltimoreans feel doomed.

The forecast was for warmth and sun, with the Ravens primed for a home game against the Broncos, and runners everywhere in preparation for the marathon this coming weekend. Temperatures in the 70s, soft October light on the trees and the sparkling grass — why would anyone want to spoil such a weekend?

But six men were killed and three others injured in eight separate shootings, and here's another one of those occasions when otherwise rational citizens want to scream: What the hell is wrong with you guys? Just stop! Get a life, or get out of town!

Baltimore had a long, hot summer of bloody weekends with multiple shootings. That was wildly frustrating for a mayor who gets daily briefings on crime trends and a police commissioner who appears to be pouring every ounce of heart and soul into one of the toughest jobs in America.

"I continued to see, overall, our [violent crime] trending in the right direction," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the other day. "And then the weekends would come and there would be eight shootings or six homicides."

During Memorial Day weekend, 10 people were killed in the city, and there were other weekends of double-digit shootings, including the shootings of 10 people, four of them fatally, from Aug. 6 to Aug. 8.

Commissioner Bealefeld came up with new strategies aimed specifically at reducing shootings on the weekend: More "targeted enforcement," more "car checks," more cops on the street.

Before this past weekend's burst of violence, shootings had fallen in Baltimore for six weekends in a row, according to the mayor.

In fact, there were no homicides in the city during the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October. During Oct. 1-3, there were no shootings at all. (I don't watch much local TV news on weekends anymore, but I can't imagine what Saturday and Sunday assignment editors did for stories with no inner-city shootings or homicides.)

According to the mayor, Baltimore has had 42 fewer weekend homicides or shootings over the same period in 2009.

So the new strategy was paying off until someone had to shoot — couldn't find any other solution to his problem, I guess — a 51-year-old man in the northwest part of town Saturday morning; and someone else had to shoot a 22-year-old guy in northeast Baltimore on Saturday evening, and someone else had to shoot another man (no age given) who was found in an alley near Union Memorial Hospital, the same evening; and then someone had to shoot a 46-year-old man just before midnight in southwest Baltimore; then someone had to shoot a 33-year-old man in West Baltimore early Sunday.

There's no "just stop" to this kind of thing. The police work can pay off, as demonstrated in September, but a lot of this comes down to the choices made by those engaged in activities that lead to violence.

How do you convince guys in danger — the ones who know they're at risk of getting shot — that living is more important than hanging around to see what might happen next weekend? How do you convince them there's no cowardice in wanting to get out of the game? Maybe by offering them a chance to.

There's a number for anonymous tips about crime, 410-276-8888; a number to report guns, 410-685-GUNS; a number to report drug activity, 410-666-DRUG. Maybe we need an at-risk hot line for guys in trouble and willing to get some help to avoid it. I bet there are more of them out there than we think.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM.

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