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Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady is running for mayor, pledging to represent those who feel “overlooked, ignored and unheard."
Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady is running for mayor, pledging to represent those who feel “overlooked, ignored and unheard." (Dan Rodricks / Baltimore Sun)

The other day in Annapolis, Jack Young, mayor of Baltimore, said he “almost cringed” when he heard Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan single out the city’s crime problem for special attention. I’ll tell you what makes me actually — not almost — cringe: 29 homicides in the first 37 days of the year.

As of Thursday, non-fatal shootings were down by 12, year over year, at 44. But Baltimore police had recorded 29 killings, two more than at the same point last year. There have been 1,688 murders in the city since January 2015, and we’re still looking for a way out of this violent epoch.

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The latest plan follows a strategy from Chicago. The city wants to establish nine Baltimore Community Intelligence Centers to localize and coordinate crime detection and prevention and police response. Part of the plan calls for identifying people at high risk of being shot and getting them help with housing, drug treatment or job training — whatever shifts them away from criminality.

This kind of intervention is key to a long-term solution. We need more police. But we also need more social workers.

Safe Streets has been effective at mediating the kind of beefs that lead to shootings. The Roca program redirects young men into therapy, classes and transitional employment; early results are promising. There’s an ex-offender in East Baltimore, known as Uncle T, who started Challenge 2 Change, a safe haven program for boys. That’s all good.

“But we need to put those programs on steroids,” says Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannaday, candidate for mayor and a passionate advocate for authentic intervention in the lives of boys and young men who feel hopeless. By authentic, he means men like himself — recovered from poverty and prison and leading stable, respectable lives — going face-to-face with corner boys.

“They gotta think change is possible,” Cannady says at his campaign office in Station North. “They don’t see it. They don’t see a different way. We’ve been putting Band-aids on problems forever. There’s scarce resources, and where there’s scarce resources there’s going to be crime, violence and sometimes murder. I think these kids are looking for someone to respect, trust and relate to. If they don’t see that, they’re going to ignore the call because they won’t think it’s authentic.”

This is the main reason Cannady is running for mayor. He’s not a politician. He’s a community-action hero who wants to stop violence and save lives.

He grew up poor in Baltimore, and his biography includes an absent father, incarcerated stepfather, a mother who was addicted to drugs and died of AIDS in 1999. Cannady served time for drug dealing and came out of prison determined to change lives. He works as marketing manager for Shoe City. He has a company, The Stokey Project, that promotes talent, from rappers and deejays to filmmakers and clothing designers. Five years ago, he succeeded in brokering peace between rival rap artists. Police commissioners have called on him for counsel. He stages spring and summer events for kids.

Cannady has consistently preached the need to intervene in the lives of boys and young men at risk.

“We have a severe disconnect between our political leaders and people who feel they’ve been ignored,” he says. “The young kids today in Baltimore City are feeling braver and braver about committing crimes.”

Cannady, who is 49, gets that from frequent conversations on the streets or during visits to city schools.

“The anger and frustration is in them like I have never seen in my entire life. I see a shooter in almost every kid that’s angry.”

But they feel vulnerable, too.

“I get [text messages] all day long from people asking for help. I was at a funeral [for a homicide victim] and a kid said to me, ‘I almost killed my cousin.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, “Yeah, I almost killed my cousin. I didn’t know he was my cousin, and we had a problem.’ I said, ‘Why would you take his life?’ And he said, ‘Because I think he’s gonna take my life.’ … He thought it was best to get the guy before the guy got him. That phobia is real.

“You have people shooting for retaliatory reasons. People don’t have anger management skills, don’t know how to problem-solve. They get into verbal conflicts and think the only way to resolve it is shooting.”

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Cannady proposes what he calls “community incubators,” one in each councilmanic district, to offer services directly to city residents, including boys and young men who need direction. Squeegee workers, for instance, would get help getting off the streets and into other work.

“If we run them off a corner without resources and put them in a situation where they have to think for themselves again, I can tell you, nine times out 10, what they’re going to do as a consolation,” Cannady says. “They are going to find other means to survive.”

He is clearly an underdog in the April primary, but Cannady says he’s campaigning for mayor because he sees no other candidate who comes from the parts of Baltimore that need the most attention. “We don’t have a Federal Hill problem,” he says. “We don’t have a Canton problem. We don’t have a Fells Point problem. We have an inner-city problem.”

Cannady warns that, without comprehensive and authentic intervention on a scale to match the need, Baltimore’s problems will get worse. “We can’t [arrest] our way out of this,” he says. “We can’t put a bandaid anymore. We have to put stitches.”

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