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Op-ed

Killing of 23-year-old near Patterson Park makes it harder to ‘believe’ in Baltimore | GUEST COMMENTARY

FILE - A "BELIEVE" campaign billboard is shown on Greenmount Ave. on April 16, 2002. (Infrared photo by Jerry Jackson/Staff)

Believe.

That’s what Baltimore’s leaders encouraged us to do 20 years ago. Believe in the city. Believe in its people. Believe in its potential. Believe that it could overcome what seemed to be intractable problems of crime, drugs, unemployment and a poor self-image.

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I bought into it. I believed. My wife and I moved here nearly a quarter-century ago from what I like to describe as a little Baltimore. A down-on-its-luck, post-industrial city in Connecticut whose future dimmed a little more each time another factory closed its doors. A city that seemed to take one step forward, and, just when you thought it might be turning a corner, there were the inevitable two steps back.

We were excited about coming to Baltimore. My wife grew up here. Her father taught in the public schools for nearly his whole career. From afar, from what we’d read and seen on family visits, the city had problems, but it seemed to be making progress. And we had been hired to work at a newspaper that had just won a Pulitzer Prize. What was not to be excited about?

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We wanted to buy a house in the city, but those two big issues kept popping up: schools and taxes. So, we bought in the county. But we didn’t give up on Baltimore. We ate in its restaurants, attended and participated in sporting events, made regular visits to interesting places when our two kids were growing up. While we may not have lived in the city, we still wanted to be a part of it, even as the problems we had seen from afar persisted. There was always the belief that at some point, things were going to turn around, that Baltimore would once again live up to its eccentric potential.

And so, we waited, and did what we could, paltry as it may seem, to help out. My wife and her friend are regular theater goers. They look forward to evenings when they can enjoy a performance after grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant. I’ve worked at a food pantry, packaging fruits and vegetables for families having trouble making ends meet. For a short time, I spruced up resumes for homeless men who were trying to make the transition to full-time work. My youngest son, who lives in the city, worked on an urban farm near the old Lake Clifton High school, helping to grow crops that were distributed to families in need. He’s also been working for a group that works to keep Baltimore neighborhoods clean and green.

We believed.

Then came Thanksgiving this year. I had just walked into the kitchen after coming back from a run when my wife told me she had some bad news. She quickly reassured me it wasn’t about our son. But it was bad. One of his best friends had been shot in the head early that morning while walking to his car near Patterson Park. Details were sketchy; it appears to have been a robbery gone bad. All we knew was that his friend was in the hospital barely clinging to life.

I know full well we’re not the first and won’t be the last to have to process news like that. I can’t imagine how a parent feels when they learn a child of theirs has suddenly become a victim of senseless violence. The victim here wasn’t one of our two boys. But hearing the news about his friend was devastating, nonetheless. All I could feel was utter despair.

The next day, Friday, his friend passed away. He was 23 years old. He and my son had been close since meeting at the bus stop in high school. They were both sneaker freaks. They partied together. His friend was attending trade school to become an electrician. He was an all-around good kid. A good kid who was shot and killed for … what?

The violence in this city is mind-numbing. The number of shootings and killings rises and falls, but not to any significant degree. This year, we’re back over 300 homicides. For the eighth straight year. High homicide rates have persisted for decades, and there seems to be no end in sight. The old, the young. No one is spared. Day after day.

And so, the parents of my son’s friend were left the day after Thanksgiving with the task of arranging for their son’s funeral. As so many parents have had to do. Far too many parents. Far too many lives lost.

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And the rest of us? I guess we’re still expected to believe. But it’s getting harder and harder.

Don Schiller (donaldschiller3@gmail.com) is a former Sun copy editor and currently a freelance editor outside Towson.


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