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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: A primary day fraught with crime tensions and big questions about Baltimore | COMMENTARY

Just a few minutes after the polls opened for Maryland’s midsummer primary, the Baltimore Police Department released year-to-date data on the violent loss of life across the city.

By election day, there had been 198 homicides in Baltimore, nine more than last year at the same time. There had been 296 nonfatal shootings by Tuesday morning, 20 more than last year.

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At this rate, Baltimore will record its eighth consecutive year of 300-plus homicides.

It’s sickening, heartbreaking and exhausting, a terrible indicator of the level of rage and callousness in our midst, and a measure of the availability of guns.

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Our city — with its sparkling waterfront and tree-lined streets, with its great institutions and resilient neighborhoods, with its good people and earnest civic leaders — remains one of the most violent, per capita, in a violent nation. It’s as if we have a chronic illness, treatable and even curable, but not getting better.

And so on primary election day, Baltimoreans walked through the July heat to nominate Democratic and Republican candidates — mostly Democrats — for various offices, from governor to school board. But the keenest interest was down ballot, in the three-way battle for Baltimore State’s Attorney.

The choices were Ivan Bates, Thiru Vignarajah and the incumbent Marilyn Mosby. That choice is as close a Baltimore voter could come to effecting a change in current trends.

We’ve had elections amid violence before, going back to Kurt Schmoke’s mayoralty in the 1990s, when the crack epidemic sparked a shocking level of killings.

But the 2022 primary arrived at a moment fraught with higher tensions and big, existential questions about the city.

Baltimore feels like a hot cauldron of new and festering problems, gripes, rivalries, animosities and accusations. All related to crime. The Fraternal Order of Police continues to criticize Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, as the union has from the start of his tenure. I hear Gov. Larry Hogan and business leaders knock Mayor Brandon Scott for taking too soft an approach to crime. I hear Baltimoreans decry a lack of urgency about problems, and I hear people with only fleeting interest in the city speak of it in the ugliest terms, as if they had nothing invested in seeing Baltimore thrive again.

The fatal shooting of a man who raised a bat to squeegee guys on the grand boulevard near the city’s waterfront ignited another round of squeegee hatred and calls for Scott to take a hard, once-and-for-all line on the boys and young men who offer motorists a service — windshield cleaning — that probably most don’t want. Some of the letters I’ve received from readers reflect a level of fear and anger bordering on hysteria.

The mayor answers with a vow to work with different groups, including the police, to offer the boys and young men a way to a better livelihood, and I hear that approach sarcastically condemned and dismissed.

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Not by everyone, of course. Tuesday morning, at his polling place in Locust Point, Bates said he agreed with the mayor’s plan but wants to see the squeegee crews warned off the corners, then cited if they continue and sent to a special “community court.”

If elected, Bates says he plans to establish the community court to handle some of the low-level, nonviolent offenses that Mosby decided not to prosecute at all.

Mosby, meanwhile, continues to hold herself up as a progressive prosecutor — and as someone who gets blamed for things over which she has no control.

On Thursday, she tweeted a horribly amateurish video lampooning the always-bashing-Baltimore Fox 45, suggesting that the TV station’s news coverage holds her responsible for everything, including the loss of the city’s first NFL team, the Colts, in 1984.

What exactly was Mosby trying to say with this not-funny video? That she bears no responsibility for the state of the city?

She has been the chief prosecutor since 2015, and there have been 2,528 homicides during her tenure. She ran for office complaining that the incumbent state’s attorney, Greg Bernstein, was responsible for an increase in homicides. There were 197 of them in 2011, Bernstein’s first year in office. The toll climbed to 235 in 2013, and then dropped to 211 in 2014, the year Mosby upset Bernstein in the city primary.

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To the extent that any state’s attorney in Baltimore or a Maryland county is responsible for the level of violence in that jurisdiction, Mosby should have been in real trouble going into the Democratic primary this year — especially when you factor in the very big problems she faces from a federal indictment charging her with perjury and making false statements on mortgage applications.

For a time her top challenger was Bates, a defense attorney with genuine leadership qualities who ran against her in 2018 and finished second. If Baltimoreans were looking for an alternative to Mosby, Bates seemed like an obvious and sound choice.

But Vignarajah, the former federal and state prosecutor, got into the race again, and so the easy prediction became a repeat of the outcome from four years ago, with Bates and Vignarajah splitting the fed-up-with Mosby vote and Mosby sailing to another win.

That could happen again; we won’t know the final tally until mail-in votes are counted. But, alas, if it does, the story won’t end there. Mosby is scheduled for trial in federal court in September. That unfortunately guarantees even more distractions from the most serious and complicated challenge of making Baltimore a safer city, something the citizens want, deserve and voted for.


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