The people who got on Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett after the shooting in Edmondson Village on Wednesday morning might not know this, but he has been pushing for investment in that old shopping center for several years. Before and after the Freddie Gray uprising and unrest of 2015, Burnett was a community organizer who tried to get the owner to clean the place up and make improvements.
Burnett has been on the City Council six years now, and Baltimore has recorded 300-plus homicides each of those years. So, when gunfire erupted among high school students outside a fast-food restaurant in Edmondson Village, some residents — including a guy who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2016 (earning just 661 votes) — dumped on Burnett about the lack of progress. And the councilman and the guy got into a shoving match that police broke up.
The suggestion, from both Burnett and his critics, is that conditions in the shopping center contribute to the problems there. Mayor Brandon Scott suggested the same thing: that neglectful ownership fosters and abides a fraught environment.
“As long as I have been alive, the Edmondson Village Shopping Center has been a hot spot,” Scott said. “This community deserves better than this. It deserves better than a shopping center that seems to not care about it from an investment standpoint.”
Some might think it odd or deflecting for public officials to reference the conditions of a shopping center in the aftermath of a mass shooting when those who squeezed triggers are solely to blame for the death of a 16-year-old boy and the wounding of four other students.
And yet, that bit about conditions is not far-fetched. Conditions in a place, physical and behavioral, matter.
Before I go on, a timeout for a personal note: I hear people express dismay that the five Baltimore high school students were shot on just the fourth day of the new year, as if the arrival of the new year promised an armistice in the city’s internecine gun wars. Sorry if this sounds despondent, but I see no near-term answer to this incessant, random and retaliatory violence. The police do what they can, confiscating guns every day, but they can’t keep up. There are too many guns, and too many foolish or angry boys and young men with guns. Baltimore is a violent city in a violent country with far more guns than people.
More precisely, Baltimore is two cities — one where people live comfortably and enjoy an urban lifestyle, where investors keep developing and redeveloping property at an impressive pace, and another where last year there were 334 homicides and 699 nonfatal shootings.
As time goes on, I find it harder to comment on the violence, much less suggest solutions. We have arrived at a place where guns, legal or illegal, have become the tools at hand for settling scores, answering insults, vanquishing rivals, exacting revenge or acting out violent fantasies and hatreds. That doesn’t even include the use of firearms in suicides.
Again, sorry if this sounds despondent, but all boasts of American exceptionalism are rendered a joke when you look at the level of gun violence in this country and the unwillingness to do anything about the massive amount of firearms.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled column.
Some properties are, indeed, associated with crime. Using the city padlock law a few years ago, police shut down a Southwest Baltimore gas station connected to 16 mostly violent crimes within two years, including two homicides. Residents in Northeast Baltimore recently called for the shuttering of a gas station in the smartly redeveloped Northwood Commons Shopping Center after a 56-year-old man was fatally shot there. Baltimore Police have scheduled a public nuisance hearing about the gas station for Jan. 25.
The issue in Edmondson Village is different. It’s not about shuttering a particular business. It’s about the lack of investment and care. Burnett has been working on that for close to a decade, and his hopes now turn to the pending sale of the shopping center to a Chicago developer, Lyneir Richardson, known for turning them around.
I note that, soon after Wednesday’s shooting was reported, Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted that “our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this senseless violence.”
I also note that Hogan is the man who, in his first term, pulled the plug on a major project that might have made a big difference by now, sparking a rejuvenation of Edmondson Village and other west-side neighborhoods, creating thousands of jobs and stimulating the kind of economic development that crowds out crime and grime.
Soon after the Freddie Gray unrest, when Baltimore really needed a boost, Hogan killed the west-east Red Line light rail system that had been a decade in planning. He sent $900 million in federal funding back to Washington and shifted $736 million of state money to road projects in suburban and rural counties. He then frequently criticized city officials for not doing enough to stop the violence here.
So, while it’s good that he expresses sympathy to the families of victims of the Edmondson Village shooting, Hogan doesn’t escape responsibility for the conditions there. Killing the Red Line and the opportunities it would have created along its route by now — that decision is part of the Hogan legacy, and eight hard years in Baltimore later, it looks just as bad as the day he made it.