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300 and counting: Baltimore’s appalling homicide tally, now routine, requires more than the usual response | COMMENTARY

The 2800 block of Pelham Avenue where a 5-year old girl was taken to the hospital as police officers and medical personnel were unable to revive her. Baltimore homicide detectives are investigating making her death the 300th homicide in the city this year. Nov. 17, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).
The 2800 block of Pelham Avenue where a 5-year old girl was taken to the hospital as police officers and medical personnel were unable to revive her. Baltimore homicide detectives are investigating making her death the 300th homicide in the city this year. Nov. 17, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun). (Amy Davis/Amy Davis)

It comes as no surprise that Baltimore recorded its 300th homicide this week given that the city has met or surpassed that mark for seven straight years and has long been on track to do so again. Yet it could scarcely have done so in a more discouraging manner. On Tuesday, we learned of the killing of 69-year-old Evelyn Player, who was stabbed to death in the bathroom of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, making her victim No. 298, according to The Baltimore Sun’s homicide tracking map. And then on Wednesday, we were told of the official 300th homicide, which actually occurred Monday and involved the death of a 5-year-old girl at her home in Belair-Edison; the child had what detectives described as “bruising on her face from prior abuse.”

The official response, whether by Mayor Brandon Scott or by Gov. Larry Hogan, has seemed so inadequate to the moment. The mayor condemned the homicides but got defensive about his police department’s ability to prevent them (”They’re never going to know that some guy is going to wake up one day and say ‘Oh, I see that my old girlfriend has a new boyfriend. I am now going to go kill that man,’” he told reporters at one point this week). And the governor offered up a $100,000 reward for information leading to Ms. Player’s killer, but not those involved in the 299 other homicides. He also engaged in a lot of finger-pointing at Mayor Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, yet not his own Division of Parole & Probation, which is allegedly supervising released offenders, too many of whom subsequently commit murders.

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Let’s get a few things clear: Every life counts, although we’ll admit that the deaths of innocent children and beloved seniors tug at the heartstrings a lot harder than the loss of repeat violent offenders, a category well represented in the homicide count. If churches like Southern Baptist are the pillars of the Black community in Baltimore, then women like Evelyn Player are the bedrock of those churches. It’s no secret that the ravages of poverty, racism, the war on drugs, the loss of intact families, and the outright dangerousness of life on the streets in certain city neighborhoods have made the role of Baltimore’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers all the more vital. The Evelyn Players of our city are precious beyond measure. And so we weep at her loss.

We don’t think Mayor Scott is satisfied with the status quo. Nor the Baltimore City Council. Nor Governor Hogan nor, frankly, anyone we know. But if they are truly mortified at what’s happening and fully committed to reducing the homicide tally, we would like to see greater indication that they are not merely interested in playing politics. How about, for example, the mayor, governor and police commissioner standing in the same room talking about joint efforts today or tomorrow or the day after that? How about offering a $100,000 reward for every homicide in Baltimore (and given the state’s current $2.5 billion budget surplus, that’s easily done)? And how about the mayor, now that he’s been in office for nearly a year, taking full ownership of the police department’s performance and perhaps mending a few law enforcement fences along the way? It’s probably not the best reelection strategy for local officials in a city still angry over police brutality, discriminatory practices and misconduct, but it’s essential to getting the department’s work done.

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Look, we get it. Reducing the homicide rate isn’t just about making arrests or driving around in squad cars. It’s also about solving some of the social ills that cause people, usually young men, to follow the path. We’ve cheered the work of agencies and nonprofits like Roca that are working hard to intervene, to disrupt the cycle of violence and poverty, to assist at-risk 16-to-24-year-olds who have experienced trauma and put them on a better course. And needed reforms in policing have been slow in coming, but they have been happening (with federal oversight), nonetheless.

Still, at a moment like this, Marylanders (and not just Baltimoreans) deserve better from elected leaders than defensiveness, better than calls for public patience, and certainly better than making political hay by offering cash in a high-profile case without bothering to consult the city’s top law enforcement officials to see if that would even be useful. This is an “all hands on deck” challenge as they say. Any of those “well, I’m personally doing everything I can” responses, whether from City Hall or the State House, are wholly inadequate to the task. And, as if to prove the point, Baltimore recorded its 301st killing just hours after its 300th went on the books when a 40-year-old man was found shot in East Baltimore around 3:50 a.m. He died shortly thereafter. Police, as usual, are looking for help to solve the case.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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