A young girl shouldn’t have to ask why somebody would shoot her. Yet that is exactly the question 10-year-old Kaelin Washington posed to her mom after she got caught in the crossfire of a gunbattle Saturday while walking home from buying Cheetos at a corner store in West Baltimore. A stray bullet hit the fourth grader in the chest, and she suffered a punctured lung and a fractured rib. Who knows how long the emotional trauma will last. Scraped knees from falling off of a bike, or in the most extreme cases a broken arm or leg — those are typical childhood injuries. In Baltimore, though, some children are forced to grow up way too fast in the most violent neighborhoods, and it has become increasingly hard to escape the gunshots all around them. Those with street beefs don’t care about little girls walking down the street, they are invisible casualties in neighborhood warfare.
Young Kaelin was one of four children shot over six days in Baltimore. A 12-year-old boy was shot in the arm Monday night in the Four by Four neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore. A 17-year-old boy, in a targeted attack Tuesday, was shot multiple times on an Interstate 83 exit ramp while washing car windows; he was hospitalized with injuries to his leg that, thankfully, were not life threatening. And Thursday, Baltimore police said another 17-year-old boy had been shot, this time in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood, after leaving a food market in mid-afternoon.
It’s devastating enough for children to have loved ones and friends who have ended up the latest gun fatality statistic; it is unfathomable that the child is the actual victim. When the victims of the city’s gun violence are so young, it suggests a new level of desensitization to life among the perpetrators of violent crimes. Where children and the elderly were once hands off, everybody is now fair game: kids, teens, bystanders. Shootings are done in daylight, without care about who is around to witness it and oftentimes with everything caught on video. Not even a deadly pandemic can stop the gun violence.
The senseless violence can have a devastating impact on the livelihood of children in their most formative years. Last month, Mayor Brandon M. Scott swore in the first members of a Trauma-Informed Care Task Force, whose 29 members will be charged with developing a citywide strategy for reducing and addressing the trauma children like Kaelin may face because of where they live. City employees will be trained in trauma-informed practices as well. This is all good, but we need to nurture neighborhoods that don’t traumatize in the first place if we truly want to protect our youngest residents. That’s Baltimore’s most pressing problem — stopping the homicides. We can’t say it enough.
One strategy where we see promise is the police department’s effort to stop the flow of illegal guns into the city. For too long the focus has been on arresting the mostly young men who carry the illegal guns to defend themselves, and are most prone to one day use that gun in an act of violence. But what about the gun traffickers? Let’s also work at making it harder for people to get firearms in the first place. Go after the middle men who are rarely punished for putting guns on the streets. City officials announced this week a partnership with the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety to pilot a Gun Trafficking Intelligence Platform meant to track where illegal guns originate. Using other tracing methods, the city already knows that 63% of the firearms seized by Baltimore police in 2020 were from outside Maryland and 82% from outside the city. It’s time we stop that flow into our city. We hope this intelligence platform works.
In the wake of her daughter’s injuries, Kaelin’s mother has pleaded for the violence in the city to stop. We also hope those who shoot guns so haphazardly will be swayed by the injuries of a 10-year-old girl. Pause, take a breath, look around and then put the gun down. Find that in your heart. It’s one thing not to care about your own life, but don’t disrupt that of Kaelin and other children who are just in the beginning of theirs.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.