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Political pot shots won’t reduce Baltimore’s surging violence | COMMENTARY

BPD col. Sheree Briscoe, center, consoles Michelle Torres, mother of Marcus Wilson during vigil. On right is Flormotenjo Mendez, sister of Fabian Mendez. Both men were killed recently. April 5, 2021
BPD col. Sheree Briscoe, center, consoles Michelle Torres, mother of Marcus Wilson during vigil. On right is Flormotenjo Mendez, sister of Fabian Mendez. Both men were killed recently. April 5, 2021 (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

For those who don’t follow the local fight scene, there was a skirmish this week that deserves attention. Gov. Larry Hogan, reacting to Baltimore’s high murder rate as well as specifically to a recent attack on two Korean women at a West Baltimore liquor store, gave TV interviews and posted on social media some sharp criticisms of Mayor Brandon Scott and the city’s crime fighting efforts. Mayor Scott, in return, fired back on Twitter Tuesday complaining that the state’s Republican governor was merely advocating the failed policies of the past and spouting Make American Great Again talking points. He invited the governor to “actually” meet with him instead.

We’re happy to report that by the end of the day Wednesday, the two men had indeed agreed to schedule a meeting to discuss city violence. But the bickering that preceded it — at a time when the city has seen a 17% rise in homicides compared to the same time last year — is not only unhelpful, it is outrageously irresponsible given all that’s at stake. The people who are dying from gunshots in Baltimore are just as tragic a loss of life as those who have fallen to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their deaths have a similarly devastating effect on the wider region, affecting businesses’ willingness to locate here and bring with them the jobs and opportunities to lift us all. Indeed, it’s a given that violent crime is a plague of its own, with not just one cause but many, including concentrated poverty, the war against drugs and the mass incarceration that has accompanied it, the loss of employment possibilities, inadequate schools, substance abuse, dysfunctional families, distrust of police, institutional racism and so on.

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As we’ve observed before, taking political swipes from the State House is cheap and ineffective. Governor Hogan’s talking points are to impose harsher sentences, spend more on police, pass “better” laws (whatever that means) and have prosecutors who “actually prosecute those laws,” a reference to Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s choice not to prosecute low-level offenses such as drug possession and prostitution. Given that Mr. Hogan has repeatedly failed to convince the General Assembly to pass his mandatory sentencing plans, one might assume he would have moved on to other means of helping Baltimore lower its homicide rate.

Yet Mayor Scott’s response is little better, heavy on theatrics and light on solutions. Genuine teamwork won’t be accomplished on social media. It requires something more off-line and middle-ground, and we hope it occurs in the upcoming meeting. Here’s an idea for discussion: a reconstitution of the state-funded consortium, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, composed of political leaders, police, prosecutors, judges and state officials that helped steer policy until Mr. Hogan defunded the group several years ago. He and Mayor Scott could create something similar to at least begin to get themselves on the same page. Mayor Scott has said he would welcome it.

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There are any number of strategies that might be explored: using state law enforcement to buttress city police in routine matters, like serving court papers or handling special events, for example; or simply analyzing state parole and probation records to see if repeat offenders under state supervision are driving the upsurge in violence. Meanwhile, the public deserves to know exactly how the city’s police commissioner and state’s attorney are using their resources. Are police personnel properly deployed? Is Ms. Mosby, having freed her prosecutors from going after drug possession cases, invested them fully in the fight against violent crime?

Let’s face it. If Mayor Scott says one more time that he is “concerned” about violent crime or that it’s “unacceptable,” a lot of city residents are apt to scream. Showing empathy is surely important, but what people really want to hear about right now are results. How will the mayor and all the other people in a position to reduce the city’s “unacceptable” crime rate will be held accountable? When does the clock run out on Commissioner Michael Harrison? When should the city expect a decline in shootings? And what contributions will Governor Hogan and Ms. Mosby make to that end, beyond press conferences and Twitter postings that appear chiefly to play to their respective political bases?

Serious problems require serious people. As soon as the governor invokes the meaningless phrase “defund the police” to criticize a mayor who has proposed giving his police department millions of dollars more next year, you can tell he’s not serious. Same with a mayor who rushes to Twitter to respond with a #MAGA hashtag. Cut the squabbling. Produce results. That’s what the people who live in Baltimore (and Maryland, by the way) expect from their elected leaders. And they expect them now.

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.

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