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Baltimore’s plague of gun violence continues | COMMENTARY

Crime scene tape crosses the 5800 block of Falkirk Road earlier this summer. The death of a 14-year-old boy near Clifton Park last week amid a surge in gun violence with 46 people shot was a reminder that Baltimore's homicide woes continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic. File.
Crime scene tape crosses the 5800 block of Falkirk Road earlier this summer. The death of a 14-year-old boy near Clifton Park last week amid a surge in gun violence with 46 people shot was a reminder that Baltimore's homicide woes continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic. File. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Whatever measure one cares to use, the second week of September proved to be an especially murderous one for Baltimore. The tally: 46 people shot and a dozen of them dead, including a 14-year-old found lying on the 2600 block of Polk Street near Clifton Park, a mid-city neighborhood with easy access to playgrounds and a golf course. He had been shot multiple times in the middle of the day last Friday. He was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was pronounced dead. At last count, there have been 238 homicides in Baltimore in 2020, nine of the victims below the age of 18.

There ought to be outrage. There ought to be anger. And, from what we see and hear every day, there is. Not just about the state of local policing, that’s a given. But about society’s broader failure to adequately address gun violence. And that applies not just to community associations, not just to the Baltimore Police Department or Commissioner Michael Harrison, not just to City Hall and the mayor and members of the Baltimore City Council, but to leaders in Annapolis and Washington, D.C. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a massive multi-trillion-dollar response, while Baltimore’s plague of gun violence has so far generated mostly promises.

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We have been told there are bright spots. Baltimore has been focused on police reforms with federal court oversight. One of the reasons the death of George Floyd and similar recent examples of police brutality and racial bias spawned protests but not violence in Baltimore is the sense for many who live here that, overall, the city is moving in the right direction since the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, that some measure of trust in the police is gradually being restored. And just two months ago, Commissioner Harrison was trumpeting modest improvements and “positive momentum,” crediting his five-year anti-crime plan with micro-zone targeted enforcement, improved technology, accountability. But the homicide numbers tell a different story. Overall, the city remains on pace for maybe one or two dozen fewer homicides this year compared to last, when there were 348, but not if we continue to lose a 12 people a week — the equivalent of more than 600 a year.

Is the reform plan working? Is it failing? Is it too early to tell? The possibility that aerial surveillance will make a marked difference still seems closer to a wing and a prayer than a breakthrough. The surge in gun violence even seems to defy the coronavirus and the limits it placed on human activity. Yet Baltimore is not alone: This summer saw a surge in violent crime in the nation’s 20 largest cities, according to the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice. Homicides in Chicago increased 65% in the first seven months of this year.

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Making this complex public health disaster all the more galling is that it’s been reduced to a political tagline, a counterpunch for President Donald Trump who wants voters to see gun violence as a product of Democratic mismanagement as if major cities were something separate and apart from the United States and therefore not his responsibility. This is no accident. In the Bob Woodward book, “Rage,” Jared Kushner makes clear that Mr. Trump’s attacks on Baltimore are purely political exercises to force Democrats to defend it. Republicans long ago deserted this city, whether it was the flight to the suburbs that started decades ago or the more recent cancellation of the Red Line by Gov. Larry Hogan five years ago, which cost thousands of jobs and missed economic opportunities.

It doesn’t have to be like that. All levels of government could be working together in a bipartisan fashion to produce initiatives that: eliminate blighted housing that tends to harbor criminal behavior, fund youth outreach programs to teach misguided youngsters alternatives to violence, reduce dropout rates, fully finance public transportation that links people to job centers, and crack down on alcohol consumption including through raising alcohol taxes. Commissioner Harrison has to be held accountable. So does City Hall. And patience is thin. But it’s ludicrous to ignore the roles that concentrated poverty, systemic racism and a myriad of related factors have played in worsening this city’s long-standing problem with gun violence. To develop a meaningful solution, all of these areas must be addressed.

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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