There is no shortage of tragedy on the streets of Baltimore: a revenge killing, a holdup gone bad, a suicide, a road rage that escalates. And then there are the roaring crescendos where you can’t quite believe what has been orchestrated. Like the cacophony of shots fired midday Tuesday in the middle of an East Baltimore Street, killing one man and injuring three others. Sixty shell casings from the unknown assailant’s assault rifle left lying on North Rose Street for a police forensic crew to examine, tag and photograph. One 25-year-old gone forever, killed in a hail of bullets one might expect in a war zone, like Ukraine. And that was not the day’s only shooting. There were at least two others, none fatal, in other city neighborhoods.
What’s the difference between Baltimore and Kyiv? In one, the killing is mostly purposeful; in the other, it’s too often indiscriminate, which makes it all the more frightful. In right-wing media, the complaint is that Baltimore’s leaders don’t care about the killing and that it could all be stopped overnight with a tougher prosecutor seeking longer prison sentences or through some ill-defined greater community “support” for police officers. Days like Tuesday demonstrate why this is hokum. Nobody pulls out a weapon of mass destruction to indiscriminately spray bullets on a street after reflecting on mandatory minimum sentences and the pros and cons of getting caught. These are the actions of individuals with little self-awareness who don’t give a damn — about their victims, about their families and probably about their own futures. And no amount of mere hand-wringing by elected officials (or posturing by the lock-them-all-up crowd) is going to change that.
What Baltimore needs — and on this point there seems to be fairly widespread agreement among stakeholders — is an all-of-the-above strategy that not only seeks to capture and prosecute violent offenders to protect the citizens of this city but addresses the root causes of violence and the easily-obtained tools available to commit such terrible acts. The to-do list is long and runs the gamut from assisting families stuck in poverty to counseling offenders upon their release from prison to getting guns off the street to creating job opportunities for young people and providing help for substance abusers. And then there is the no-small-matter of restoring public confidence in a police department with a history of discrimination, brutality and corruption so well documented that it’s not only subject to a federal consent decree but chronicled weekly in the HBO series, “We Own This City.”
Mayor Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison seem to understand the complexities here. But it’s difficult to measure progress, especially after days like Tuesday. The best that could be said is that the jury is out on their anti-gun-violence initiatives. Sometimes, Mr. Scott seems too wrapped up in bureaucracy and process, such as when he talks about “pillars” and five-year timetables and frets about exactly how police district lines are drawn. But at least one observation made repeatedly by the mayor is worthy of reinforcement: He has called on parents and entire communities, not just government and nonprofits, to do more to end the killing. When a 16-year-old is charged with armed carjacking of a police detective, as took place last week, the solution isn’t just with Safe Streets, it has to be at home. One might add our schools, our community centers and our houses of worship to the list. Something basic is missing when young people choose to settle minor differences with a gun.
There are days of hope, of course. When we see Baltimoreans banding together in candlelight vigils for the victims of violence or marching together to promote a ceasefire weekend or taking other measures to make this city a better, safer place, we know that all is not lost. And it’s also fair to point out that Baltimore did not get to this grim place overnight, nor through the fault of most who live here. And yet here we are, at a time when a 52-year-old landscaper can be unceremoniously gunned down in Curtis Bay for allegedly cutting off a 17-year-old in traffic, as took place last month. We must work to change this lunacy, but first let us weep that we live in a world that must bear such senseless loss.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.