Maybe it was the quilt with faces of people, most of them young, who were killed in the streets. Maybe it was the news of more shootings — eight victims one day, nine another — and the homicide count hitting 250 with more than three months left in the year. Maybe all of that provoked my annoyed, impatient reaction to a document from City Hall about Mayor Brandon Scott’s plan for slowing the horrible pace of violence in Baltimore.
It showed up in an email — a two-page “recap” or “overview memo” from the first “in-person Group Violence Reduction Strategy partners meeting” held on Monday. The handout came with an illustration of a three-legged stool, and each piece of the stool labeled — one leg for “law enforcement,” one for “outreach and support,” the third for “community moral voice.” The legs support the seat of the stool, which represents something called “focused and committed political leadership.” The stool sits on a round base that stands for “partnership-based performance management.”
The only good I saw was the absence of the word “stakeholders.”
But there were other cliches and goals we’ve heard before: “Strengthen police-community relations and trust,” “decrease recidivism and improve outcomes for those at the highest risk of violence,” and “reduce homicides and shootings.”
Reporters were not allowed to attend the full meeting of the “partners” involved in launching this part of the mayor’s crime plan because they were supposedly getting down to business and discussing some of the repeat violent offenders being targeted for intervention. And that’s fine, if true. But this amateurish “overview memo,” with the kiddie stool, amounted to a redundant summary, and its arrival as Baltimore surpassed 250 homicides landed somewhere between depressing and insulting.
Just do it!
Stop telling us what you’re about to do, and do it.
Brandon Scott needs a chance to show he can get the homicides and shootings down; he has already set a goal — a decrease of 15% per year — and put in place initiatives to make that happen. We want him to get this right. We want him to succeed. Two things Baltimore cannot afford: more years of intractable violence and another failed mayor.
But remember, while our mayor is young, he has been around the block a few times. He was first elected, at age 27, to the Baltimore City Council in 2011. He was chair of the council’s public safety committee and then president of City Council. As a candidate for mayor, Scott won the Democratic primary in June 2020, guaranteeing that he would become the 52d mayor of this deeply blue city. He could have had his strategy in place last December, when he took office, or certainly by midwinter.
Group violence intervention is not new. It has been tried a few times by different mayors since the 1990s. The strategy had the most success when Sheila Dixon was mayor, some 14 years ago, but, like Dixon, it did not last. When Stephanie Rawlings-Blake succeeded Dixon, the city tried group violence intervention again, but it failed, lacking the sustained support it needed, especially after the spring unrest of 2015.
I have applauded Scott for going back to it. It’s a smart approach to violent offenders on parole or probation and at risk of committing more crimes. The idea is to show them the way out of that life. “We’ll help you if you let us, but we’ll stop you if you make us,” is how Police Commissioner Michael Harrison describes it.
So, by all means, go for it. Just don’t put out any more patronizing “overview memos” in the name of transparency; they leave the impression of all-talk-no-action — and that’s the last impression we need when bodies are still falling on sidewalks at a sickening pace.
If you thought 2020 was bad, 2021 is worse. So far there are more homicides this year than last and almost as many nonfatal shootings. And while some believe it could be worse — the nation saw a 30% jump in murders in 2020, according to the FBI, while Baltimore’s remained relatively steady — that’s spin no one should buy. The city is still one of the nation’s most violent. I hope I’m wrong, but we’re probably headed to our 7th straight year of 300-plus homicides.
The annoyance and impatience you sense comes from three places: Too many years in Baltimore without seeing a sustained reduction in violence; too many dispiriting conversations about crime and its effect on neighborhood life and businesses; too many photographs of young men who died violent deaths in our streets.
The latest such array of photos appeared yesterday on a quilt on the second floor of a renovated rowhouse across from Morton and Sons Funeral Home in West Baltimore. It’s called the Family Survivor Network, a cheerful and intimate place established just a few years ago for healing and therapy. Women and children related to the victims who appear in the photographs made the quilt.
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Dorian Walker is executive director and runs the house with a small staff. They offer group support, a cup of herbal tea and conversation, as survivors — mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sons and daughters — work through the trauma of a murder in the family. And there has been so much of that, so much pain and loss from incessant violence, as we wait ... and wait for the thing that makes it stop.