What gets you is the purity of the expression, the way Baltimore’s children, with just a few words and images, take ownership of their city and demand that the killings stop. Even my tired eyes, jaded from news of hundreds of senseless homicides over too many years, find power in what the children say with their pastels, oils and pencils. Some might be repeating what they have heard in a classroom or seen on a T-shirt — “Stop killing, start living” — but others offer their personal ideas about making Baltimore a more civilized place.
I wish there could be a call-out to all who this month carry a gun in Baltimore with criminal intent. I wish they could be compelled to line up at the Motor House in Station North, where there’s an exhibit of student artwork, to be inoculated against the contagion of revenge that, perhaps more than anything else, explains the ongoing insanity.
People generally do not kill strangers; they kill those they know from the heroin business, or from gangs, or from the infliction of insult or injury.
One of the weekend victims was Davonte Robinson. He had been shot before. He survived three bullets to his body on Mount Street in West Baltimore in the summer of 2016, and police at the time believed the attack on Robinson led to retaliatory shootings that included the killing of rapper Lor Scoota. In the two years since the first shooting, you’d think Robinson might have wanted to change his lifestyle, maybe even get out of town. Did anyone try to help him, talk sense to him, show him the way to something better?
As of Tuesday noon, there had been 19 homicides in the first 22 days of 2019. That puts Baltimore on pace for another year of 300-plus killings.
I have said it before: In addition to everything else needed on the crime front, the city should broadcast a steady counter-message to violence. It’s commonly assumed that everyone here understands that killing is not the answer to problems. But where does that message live in a big and sustained way, in the everyday life of the city? If it exists at all, it is buried in a massive flood of violence — in all forms of media, in the daily news, in the sad stories of neighborhoods.
And I was pleased with what I found there — the work of dozens of Baltimore school children expressing their desires for a more peaceful hometown. Inspired by Baltimore Ceasefire 365 and the anti-violence work of its founder, Erricka Bridgeford, the student creations are all composed on 10-inch-by-10-inch placards.
Some images jump off the wall: A cardboard panhandler’s sign pleads for change — not the kind you can toss in a bucket, but the kind of social and cultural transformation that will save lives. ... A gun is rendered useless, its barrel tied in a knot. ... A teenage boy aims a gun, but there’s a flower where there should be gun smoke; his intended victim appears serene and offers to water the flower. ... A simple image of crossed hands, with the words: “Hold peace, not guns.” ... Rowhouses representing two Baltimores — one boarded-up and vacant, the other with curtained windows and flowers — come with the suggestion that the city’s socioeconomic divide be erased so all citizens feel they are part of “one Baltimore.”
Some of the artwork shows what students experience: The outlines of bodies at crime scenes, or a victim slowly dying and bidding farewell to “my career,” “my future,” and “my family.” We have seen student artwork like this before, and it often leaves you feeling bad — that, in drawing or painting what they know, so many children and young adults see blasting guns and bleeding bodies.
But, the main message of “10x10” is a demand for the gunfire to stop, that there be a more peaceful city. In the lobby and first-floor hallways of Motor House I see kids taking ownership of their city and understanding that they have a stake in what happens here — that Baltimore should not be just a place to survive through high school, but a place to live and to thrive.