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Donnell Eley, associate pastor at Faith United Baptist Church, livestreams from his phone as he leads a group of community leaders, pastors and residents through East Baltimore. The group said it's part of a movement to heal the city and stop the violence.
Donnell Eley, associate pastor at Faith United Baptist Church, livestreams from his phone as he leads a group of community leaders, pastors and residents through East Baltimore. The group said it's part of a movement to heal the city and stop the violence. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Twelve people shot in one day. A man killed in broad daylight in the middle of a bustling downtown area at a busy bus stop.

Crime has become non-stop and unrelenting in Baltimore. We have lost more people in the last decade than in some wars. The killers don’t care who is around or what time of day it is. People are scared, unnerved and exhausted.

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I still don’t really fear the city I have now called home for 19 years. I am not ready to move to the land of strip shopping centers and chain restaurants in the suburbs. Maybe I am naive, but instead what I mostly feel is a deep sadness every time I hear about a new homicide.

That’s because I know it is likely to be a black face that is the victim. Somebody who looks like my nephew, niece or cousin.

No, I am not about to go on a conservative rant about how black people should stop killing each other. That would be an unfair and oversimplified view of what is going on. That kind of argument comes from people who don’t care about the people who are dying.

I care and don’t want to hear about anymore bodies. We have lost a generation or two of black men — and increasingly black women. And we are headed toward losing the next generation.

Something has gone horribly wrong when people stop valuing their lives. When small beefs, conflicts over drug territory and protecting one’s reputation is worth the risk of getting shot to death. Too many black Baltimoreans don’t see any other prospects so they continue the cycle of violence.

There are many reasons why this has happened. Mass incarceration fueled by corrupt and unjust policing has broken up African American families and saddled scores of people with prison records and unemployable traits. The school system isn’t preparing our kids for the work world, and there are no jobs in their neighborhoods anyway. Black neighborhoods with the highest crime rates still in many respects look like gutted remnants of the riots in the ’60s. Illegal guns and drugs are too accessible.

It is going to take a lot to undo these systemic issues and fortitude from lawmakers to start investing in long-ignored neighborhoods. I can’t blame the people who live there for giving up hope and focusing on surviving. Unfortunately, that survival is also fueled in violence.

In the meantime, we need to figure out what we can do immediately. We need to find a way to instill aspiration in people who only know a narrow path of life that leads to prison or death at a young age. I long for fewer candlelight vigils and more milestone celebrations.

Strong mentors and role models have helped steer some young people away from the violence. I applaud the residents holding peace rallies and the black men marching in the name of ending violence. Changing the psyche of a neighborhood and giving people a new way of thinking is one place to start. We also need more former offenders, the one’s who had to learn the hard to way, to try and reach young people also headed in the wrong direction.

Lastly, we need more people to care. Not just to be afraid to take a walk at night or worry about whether their car will be stolen. But to care about lost life. People from all neighborhoods should be up and arms in the streets over the violence. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would be different if the victims’ skin color was different or if it was other areas of the city where people were dying.

I don’t have any miracle answers to the issues. That is what I count on my elected officials to do. I will beg for the killings to stop, for African Americans to somehow realize there is value to even the most difficult lives. Life is better than death. With every photo of a homicide victim, and even some killers, I see lost potential. A life that could have turned the other direction if given more opportunity. A predicament that might have ended differently with the right intervention and the right people who cared.

I weep for all 348 lives that were lost last year and the deaths that have already started to stack up this year. My only hope is that 2020 is better than 2019.

Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Please send her ideas at amcdaniels@baltsun.com.

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