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Not so fast with the praise for Baltimore’s handling of homicides | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore City police investigate a homicide scene in the 1100 block of Granby on Monday. August 31, 2020
Baltimore City police investigate a homicide scene in the 1100 block of Granby on Monday. August 31, 2020 (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

That was satire, right? Had to be

I loved Professor Gibson’ obviously tongue-in-cheek article in last week’s Sunpapers (”Baltimore’s homicide rate remains steady as others’ soar; perhaps the rest of the country should follow our lead,” June 28). My question is whether he wrote it before or after reading the crime briefs on page 4, where we were treated to news of a shooting wounding two warring teens on Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor.

Who in their right mind would hold up Baltimore City as a model to follow insofar as homicides are concerned? If the professor’s article was not composed in jest, he should walk around the city at night without the city-paid bodyguards afforded to the mayor and the state’s attorney and get back to us in a few weeks as to the conditions on the ground.

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William T. Define, Lutherville

Baltimore homicide has long outpaced national averages, nothing to celebrate

Professor Larry Gibson seems to be saying that we should be celebrating or rejoicing in the fact that Baltimore homicides are on pace to remain steady or see only a slight decline this year, compared to a 25% increase elsewhere in the country. It is well known that Baltimore homicides have been exceptionally higher than the national average for decades, however, even compared to other large cities. They started to rise precipitously in 2015, right after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby made the ill-advised and politically motivated decision to charge six police officers in the Freddie Gray death.

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The other cities Professor Gibson cites in his piece have had much lower homicide rates than Baltimore, even after their recent rise in the past year. As examples — using his numbers — Chicago murders rose from 481 to 748 in a city of more than 2.7 million. Baltimore had about 335 homicides in 2020, in a city whose population was only 593,000 — less than a quarter of Chicago’s population, but almost half the number of its murders. Philadelphia went from 346 to 469 — in a city of nearly 1.6 million, nearly three times the size of Baltimore. It is obvious that these cities are apparently experiencing the upswing that Baltimore already experienced and is still dealing with, but whose homicide rates are still much lower.

While I agree with Professor Gibson that no city can solve this largely gun-driven homicide rate on its own and help is needed from the federal government, there is absolutely nothing about Marilyn Mosby’s policies that is helping to keep the murder rate steady. The pandemic in 2020 undoubtedly kept people off the streets to an extent, and this is probably a contributing factor.

It really is amazing that Professor Gibson actually calls a consistent number of murders “progress,” when the rate was astronomically high to begin with. Perhaps Professor Gibson should have disclosed that he is a longtime political ally of Marilyn Mosby and greatly assisted in her election and reelection campaigns. Baltimore certainly still has its charms, but no reasonable person could commend Baltimore for creativity and invention in limiting an already out of control homicide rate.

Stuart H. Arnovits, Columbia

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That’s not a measure to be proud of, Baltimore

It is pretty bad when you extol the virtues of Baltimore City by saying that we did not have an uptick in homicides like some other metropolitan areas did and even going so far as to propose that the minor reduction in homicides (348 in 2019 versus 335 in 2020) should be an example for others to follow, as op-ed writer Larry Gibson suggested. I do not feel that there should be any crowing about this supposed achievement. Baltimore had 2,205 murders from 2014 to 2020, an average of 315 per year. These numbers, when taken into consideration with our decreasing population, makes Baltimore one of the deadliest cities in the United States on a per capita basis.

Mr. Gibson notes that nationwide homicides increased by 25%. He goes on to state that many cities exceeded that percentage. Cities such as Phoenix (46%), Nashville (32%), Atlanta (38%), Chicago (55%), Philadelphia (35%), Memphis (48%) and St. Louis (35%). Only St. Louis has a higher per capita murder rate, placing it ahead of Baltimore as the deadliest city in America. If you take St. Louis out of the mix, and Baltimore’s per capita murder rate matched those of the cities listed, our number of murders, respectively, would be 54, 95, 161, 170, 182, 259.

Mr. Gibson says that each of these murders was a tragedy to families and communities. I agree that each occurrence was a tragedy for a family, however some of these victims probably brought a sense of relief to the communities that they had been terrorizing with their illicit activities. While I am aware that some of these murders are cases of mistaken identity, innocents caught by a stray bullet, or settlement of a personal dispute, the vast majority of these are related to the drug trade and turf wars related to it. Until we take the profit out of such illegal activities, there will be no end to those murders.

Mr. Gibson says that perhaps City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s strategic decisions to not prosecute certain nonviolent crimes is allowing her to focus on violent criminals. If that is the case, why is the rate of conviction so low in relation to the number of murders? This social experiment gives the impression, and rightfully so, that Baltimore is open for business to drug sales, prostitution and other crimes that Ms. Mosby in her self-appointed role of judge and jury, has deemed unworthy of her time. These are quality of life crimes that do matter to the citizens of Baltimore. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for our perpetual declining population. In 2010, Baltimore’s population was 620,961. In 2020, it was 593,490 — a loss of more than 27,000 residents over a 10-year period.

So, perhaps it would be better if we hold off on asking other metropolitan areas to emulate Baltimore. We need to get our own house in order before instructing others, and we are far from accomplishing that task.

Wayne R. Carson, Baltimore

Steady homicide rate could be explained by shooter inefficiency

Was Larry Gibson, in his Baltimore Sun guest column, “Baltimore’s homicide rate remains steady as others soar …” tongue in cheek, does he not understand how statistics works, or is he purposely hiding the problems of Baltimore City from its citizens? He seems to celebrate Baltimore’s 335 homicides in 2020 because it is a 4% reduction from 2019. And, he suggests that other cities like Philly and Chicago should ask how Baltimore has been so successful because they had an increase in homicides over the last year. He shares that Philly had 469 homicides and Chicago had 748 homicides in 2020.

He does not share that the population of Philly is 1.58 million and Chicago is 2.69 million, while Baltimore has only 575,000 residents. So, Baltimore’s homicide rate is roughly 5.6 per 10,000 while Philly is 2.9 and Chicago is 2.8 killings per 10,000 citizens. That’s right, Baltimore’s homicide rate is twice as deadly as Chicago and Philly. In fact, CBS News has Baltimore City ranked No. 2 in murder rate per capita. Yes, we should share with the other cities how we’ve become so successful. It might help tell the cities what has failed.

Mr. Gibson is grasping at straws in trying to claim Baltimore’s 4% decrease in murders is better than the other cities who have seen large increases. He says that Baltimore is in its longest recent period of uninterrupted leadership in the police department. He also wonders if Marilyn Mosby’s innovative approaches are paying off. He goes on and on trying to point at why Baltimore has been so successful that their homicide rate has not grown.

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It could be simply that those who are killing each other on Baltimore’s streets and killing those unfortunate bystanders who die in the hail of bullets can’t be any more efficient. Trying as hard as they are, they’re just having a hard time breaking a homicide rate of 6 per 10,000.

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This is not an attempt at being humorous. Even the 4% reduction could very well be attributed to luck and randomness and not an improvement in policing. After all, deaths in homicide shootings are dependent on where the victim was hit by the bullets, how quickly the victim was found and gotten to a hospital and how successful the medical staff was at saving the life of the victim. The 4% decrease could be because of a reduction in the bullets hitting vital organs, the victims getting to the hospital more quickly and more improved techniques by the medical staff in saving the victim. It would be interesting to see how many nonfatal shootings occurred in 2020 as opposed to 2019. If it was an increase, then truly the 4% reduction can be attributed more to luck and randomness and better medical response than policing and Ms. Mosby.

Patrick Walsh, Linthicum

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